By JOHN T. WARD
He had just made the last payment on his dress blues, the uniform that Red Bank volunteer firefighters wear to ceremonial occasions like the Memorial Day remembrance of colleagues who have died in the previous year.
But 26-year-old Andrew Hill was absent from Monday’s ceremony. Instead, he was among those being honored less than 36 hours after he was murdered just four blocks from the firehouse he loved.
Ex-Chief Noel Blackwood, foreground, and other volunteer firefighters at the annual firefighters memorial service at borough hall. Below, the Westside Hose firehouse, where Hill served. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
“He had just made his final payment on his fire department uniform so he could come here today,” Second Deputy Fire Chief Scott Calabrese told redbankgreen. “That makes it hard to be here today.”
Responding to a report of a stabbing at 12:43 a.m. Sunday, police found Hill lying in the roadway on Tilton Avenue, at the corner of Bank Street. He was declared dead moments later at Riverview Medical Center.
Police arrested 23-year-old Demar S. Reevey, also of Red Bank. Charged with homicide and weapons offenses, Reevey remained locked up at the Monmouth County Corrections Institution Tuesday morning.
Authorities have said little beyond those facts about the killing, and Reevey’s name was not familiar to local officials and firefighters who spoke to redbankgreen in recent days. Hill and Reevey knew each other, and were hanging out on the corner with one or more other people at the time of the stabbing, said one person with knowledge of the case.
Meantime, firefighters mourned their fallen colleague at two ceremonies Monday: the traditional event at the borough hall firefighters monument, and the second held at the Elks Lodge on West Front Street for fallen military personnel.
Hill, a member of the department for about eight years, served at the Westside Hose Company, the firehouse he lived across the street from as a boy, said Calabrese.
“He used to come over and say he was going to be a firefighter someday,” he said. “And when he turned 18, he proceeded to do that.”
Raised by his grandmother, Hill was self-reliant as a young adult. “He was just coming into a full-time job” as a security guard at Bayshore Medical Center in Hazlet, Calabrese said.
Hill played drums, and was an alumnus of the Fusion Drum and Bugle Corps in Lake Hopatcong, according to a published report.
In the fire department, “He worked very hard to make his way up to lieutenant, a big achievement,” Calabrese said. “He always tried to keep himself going. He was one of those kinds of guys. Because, you know, life puts stuff in the way, and you have to overcome it, and he was one who had to push himself to do that.”
Hill also volunteered with the department’s First Aid and Rescue Squad.
Hill’s death hit Calabrese particularly hard. As a child, Hill spent innumerable hours on the floor of the Calabrese family living room, eating and playing video games with Calabrese’s children.
“There was only one controller, so they used to have pretty in-depth conversations,” he said.
Hill’s death was “shocking,” Calabrese said, fighting back tears. “There was never any indication he would be in a situation like that,” he said.
The firehouse, he said, “is still in shock. It’s unbelievable. It’s very painful, this one.”
Others recalled Hill as an effusive and “always happy” young man.
“He was a really great guy, very well-liked by everybody,” said auxiliary member Breanna Hartman, who knew Hill first when they were students at Red Bank Middle School, and later in the fire department. “His name was passed around always in a positive way; a very good guy.”
“He was an extraordinarily welcoming and affable guy,” Mayor Pasquale Menna told redbankgreen. “He always wanted to participate and help people.”
In remarks at the borough hall ceremony, Menna said Hill “was a reflection of the community and what Red Bank is and has always been about, and that’s service.”
Menna called for a moment of silence in consideration of Hill’s life “and what he could have meant for us.”
Funeral arrangements were not yet available Tuesday morning.