For many, it was a bittersweet meeting of the Mt. Laurel Township Council on Sept. 28 when township officials, Mt. Laurel EMS staff, friends, family and more packed council chambers to honor EMS Chief Francis Pagurek, who is retiring after 16 years as chief and emergency management coordinator.
As Pagurek stood in front of a crowd of admirers, Mayor Irwin Edelson presented him with an honorable discharge award, which Edelson said recognized Pagurek’s 16 years of loyalty and dedication from Aug. 16, 1999, through Sept 30.
Edelson said although Pagurek was moving on from his role as chief, the impact he had on the EMS and the team he built would last the town forever.
“Putting together a core like this is what you do, what you’ve done for Mt. Laurel, and the residents deeply thank you for that,” Edelson said.
Pagurek used words such as “wonderful” and “amazing” to describe his 16 years of managing volunteers and working alongside Mt. Laurel’s police, fire and public works departments.
He also noted the low turnover of volunteer and career staff during his tenure, and said Mt. Laurel has “something special” with its EMS team.
“There’s not many towns who maintain their volunteer base and maintain the level of service that we maintain here in the township, and I hope that can continue into the future,” Pagurek said.
Pagurek also used his time in front of the crowd to thank his wife, along with the families of those he served with, for all the sacrifices they’ve made with having an EMS member as part of their family.
“To do what we do, getting up and leaving the house at 2 a.m., being late for dinner, everybody in this room, I know every one of you know what that’s like,” Pagurek said. “When emergencies happen, we need to be there for the public, so a lot of sacrifices for a lot of families.”
Former Mt. Laurel council member Larry Chatzidakis, who was part of the team that originally hired Pagurek, said he could never offer enough gratitude for the sacrifices members of the EMS make, and said Pagurek helped make the EMS what it is today.
“He really brought the EMS squad into the modern times, and I feel probably if it’s not the best, then it’s one of the best EMS squads in the entire state — very proud,” Chatzidakis said.
Former Mt. Laurel township manager Pat Halbe, who was also part of the team to first hire Pagurek, said she never worried about Mt. Laurel for one day after the township hired him.
She recalled how even after Pagurek’s job changed drastically overnight as result of the 9/11 attacks, he stepped up to the plate and never once complained.
“He always kept me informed, and he became more than a department head, he became a good friend,” Halbe said.
Pagurek said that although his “amazing journey” as serving as chief was over, he would remain a Mt. Laurel resident and would continue to help the township however and whenever he was able.
“Hopefully, after my year of separation, I can come back and volunteer and get ride with my friends again,” Pagurek said with smile on his face.