A city school crossing guard and the city’s “Senior of the Year” were recognized for their dedicated public service at Wednesday night’s meeting of the City Council of Jersey City.
The honorees were: Samuel Ortiz Jr., whose quick action helped prevent potential loss of lives and property during the initial stages of a 4-alarm fire near his post at the Julia A. Barnes Public School 12 on Astor Place in late March; and Joyce Davison, a longtime city resident active in a myriad of causes, most notably as the founder of Grace Senior Center for Healthy Living.
Ortiz, who grew up in Park Slope in Brooklyn, N.Y., has lived in Jersey City with his wife Sabrina and their children since 2014. The family moved to New Jersey to be closer to relatives who lived in Union. He has worked as a field supervisor for a private security firm.
While in New York, Ortiz served 17 years with the New York City Police Department while assigned to the 83rd Police Precinct in Brooklyn. During his tenure with the NYPD, Ortiz was the recipient of several citations, including a Commendable Performance Award in 1998 and Excellent Police Duty Award for dedicated service to the 83rd Precinct in 2005.
He was honored with a Certificate of Recognition of Outstanding Service to the Flatiron 23rd St. Partnership Community in 2009 and 2019; and several public safety citations issued by the New York State Assembly and NYC Council.
Ortiz has worked as a Jersey City crossing guard since November 2022. He applied for that job after hearing that the city was experiencing a shortage of school traffic guards. He brought to his new job qualifications earned through the Municipal Police Training Council and Auxiliary Police Basic Training and Emergency Management Course.
That training, combined with his practical experience gained through his past work with the NYPD, paid off this past March 27 when, according to a council resolution, Ortiz “took it upon himself to do his due diligence and help his community in a time of dire need.”
Ortiz told The Jersey City Times he was at his post when, shortly after 3 p.m., he detected a smell of dense smoke and spotted a trail of smoke coming from a nearby residence. Fearing the worst, he acted quickly to “take care of everything” to make sure that fire rigs would have a clear path to the scene to prevent any delay in quelling the blaze.
To that end, as the resolution says, he alerted his immediate supervisor, called 911, notified school personnel, along with nearby residents and merchants in the area of Astor Place and Monticello Avenue of what was happening, secured the fire hydrant closest to the school, designated safety areas for pedestrians and “had full traffic control for emergency vehicles…ensuring they could arrive quickly, ensuring no lives were lost” and “informed all residents (near) his station post to evacuate the area and remain calm….”
Ward E Councilmember Frank Gilmore credited Ortiz with being “one of the most organized persons” he’s seen on the job. “You’re always early, putting those (traffic) cones up,” Gilmore added.
And at-large Councilmember Daniel Rivera added: “I was there that day.” Thanks to Ortiz’s efforts, he said, “The scene was clear and (firefighters) were ready to tackle that fire. And lives and buildings were saved.”
Also hailed for her work on behalf of the community—seniors, in particular—was Joyce Davison, named project manager of the Grace Senior Center on Erie Street in the Downtown area when it was created in 1995, and who continues to “actively participate” in programs offered there, including a homeless support group.
As a former staffer with the city’s Department of Health & Human Services, she brings her expertise in that area to bear in her volunteer work.
Davison is also involved with the city’s Breakfast Plus program to feed the hungry, the Triangle Park Community Center and the rehabilitation of Ferris Triangle Park. She’s also on the Barrow Mansion executive board, a member of Jersey City Together, the Jersey City Parks Coalition and a supporter of Friends of Liberty State Park.
A former elementary school teacher, Davison earned a master’s degree from Rutgers University and a doctoral degree from the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, where she was believed to be the first woman from Kingston to cross the finish line in the cross-harbor swim there.
She has been selected The Jersey Journal Everyday Hero in the Selfless Seniors category in 2003.
In the resolution honoring her, Davison is credited “for her perseverance and dedication in helping seniors and (for her) relentlessness advocating for the interests of Jersey City’s senior population.”
In remarks to those attending the ceremonial presentation of Wednesday’s council meeting, Davison urged the city to do more for the homeless, do more to find places for where young men can engage in a productive way, supplement police response to “mental health-related” issues with social workers, improve the city’s tree canopy, keep Liberty State Park free of “large private enterprises” and help senior citizens find more affordable living spaces.