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Bergenfield Showcases Health, Safety Services For Diverse Community

Health Director David Volpe, Chimene Petitt and Fire Chief and Director of Special Events Jerry Naylis Photo Credit: Melissa Heule
Lora Schade, Gwen Velazquez, Maura McLaughlin, Jeanie Mazzilli and Jake DaCosta of Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps Inc. Photo Credit: Melissa Heule

BERGENFIELD, N.J. — An influx of immigrants to Bergenfield has posed new challenges for emergency service personnel, prompting the borough to host its first Health and Safety Fair on Saturday.

The event at St. John the Evangelist's Conlon Hal, was aimed at improving communication among residents and police, firefighters and other emergency responders in a town where more than 70 languages are spoken.

“Some come from cultures where if they call authorities, that means they will get in trouble,” Bergenfield Fire Chief Jerry Naylis told Daily Voice. “We would like residents to be able to call for help without hesitation.”

Cultural differences and language barriers present safety problems, with kitchen fires and carbon monoxide leaks among the top concerns.

“I had a guy using a wok on a wooden floor because that was the way he was used to cooking,” Naylis said.

Another family ignored a carbon monoxide detector, he said, adding: “If the couple had waited any longer to alert us, they would have all been dead by morning."

To draw a larger crowd, officials invited health professionals who offered free services.

“I keep having leg cramps, so I wanted them to check out my blood pressure,” said Carina Labayna, a borough resident from the Philippines -- which accounts for 12% of Bergenfield's population.

According to U.S. Census Data, the percentage of Caucasians has declined from 62% in 2000 to 52% in 2010. Both Hispanics and Asians represent roughly one-quarter of residents. 

“Growing up in Bergenfield, it was an anomaly to have a minority in my class in 1964,” Naylis said. “We now have to think of ways to deliver business and services in a non-traditional way.”

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