Cheers for a member and his lifetime of achievement
By Mitchell Krugel
The lasting image from the 2015 Valor Awards has to be the picture of Rich Fiocco standing on a chair with his Ocean County Conference brothers in the background. Not that Fiocco has ever needed a chair to stand out or stand tall.
If this had been an Italian wedding, the Ocean County Conference boys would have carried Fiocco around the room in that chair as everybody danced the Tarantella, as they all will likely do when each of his four daughters – Gianna, Christina, Nina and Maria – tie the knot. With his infectious smile and even more infectious enthusiasm, Fiocco can turn any event into a festive occasion.
Honoring Fiocco, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office State Delegate the past 15 years, as the 2015 NJ State PBA Member of the Year was undoubtedly the feel-good moment and a night of feeling good for law enforcement.
Now, Rich would be the first to pass the credit and the spotlight on to all other honorees. But the fact of the matter is that he could have been accepting this award on behalf of the Ocean County Conference for its omnipresent impact throughout the NJ State PBA. Or the honor could be construed not as one of excellence for the year, but a lifetime achievement award for somebody who has given a lifetime of achievement to the PBA.
“When you retire, they give you a big party. I don’t think anybody could have a retirement party that could top the Valor Awards,” emoted Fiocco, who is retiring on Feb. 1. “Having all the people I care about plus more than 800 members was so awesome. One of the first things I asked (President) Pat (Colligan) was out of 33,000 members, why did he pick my Italian ass. He laughed and said it was well-deserved.”
Well-deserved for a PBA lifetime of accomplishments. Fiocco embarked on Union service when he was working for Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Local 232 from 1988-2000. He moved to Ocean County to buy a house on the water so he could pursue his passion for fishing, and when Fiocco joined Local 171 in 2000, he found a way to fulfill his calling to the PBA.
At that time, Ocean County Prosecutors did not even have the PBA as its collective bargaining agent. There was no interaction with the Legal Protection Plan. He watched incredulously as department leaders repeatedly violated the labor contract and nobody said anything.
“We really were in the dark ages,” Fiocco recalled. “We worked very hard to bring in the PBA as the collective bargaining agent, and I think we had a unanimous vote to go with the PBA.”
Fiocco’s service to the Local has included a lifetime of ultimate challenges. When he was State Delegate, a young detective named Tina Rambo used to come to him to ask for advice and ideas about how to do her job. Rambo and her family became close friends with Rich and his wife, Kathy. And then on Aug. 1, 2011 Detective Rambo was lost in the line of duty when a car crossed over the center line of Route 70 and hit her head-on.
Fiocco had also formed a friendship with Local 171 Detective Scott Stevens. His son, Scotty, was the same age as Fiocco’s youngest daughter, Maria. The families spent holidays together. On Jan. 31, a little less than a year ago, Stevens died from injuries sustained while driving on duty in Lacey Township. Fiocco spent most of those two weeks at the hospital then took on planning Stevens’ funeral.
“I think anybody that looks back on life recalls good times, bad times, happy times and sad times,” Fiocco reflected. “When cops look back, it’s the extremes. The good times were very good and the bad times were very bad. It’s a ton of emotion. I have a great deal of satisfaction over the work we have done with Local 171. But there’s a lot of frustration looking at the politics and the people that are in charge, high-ranking officers who couldn’t polish a road guy’s shoes.”
You have just heard one of Fiocco’s keys to longtime service to his members and the PBA. He is not a disgruntled cop, but rather one who never hesitates to say what he feels. He has always believed that saying what you think and doing the right thing are the ways to keep from getting questioned about why you did something, not getting second-guessed and sleeping like a baby at night.
Such qualities certainly have endeared Fiocco to the Ocean County Conference, and he confided that he will treasure the picture of him standing on the chair as much as any of his accomplishments with the PBA. Quite simply, he was the guy who never hesitated when he was called on. When the state was attempting to combine all the county prosecutor’s office cops into one agency, Fiocco chaired the PBA Prosecutor’s Office Committee that essentially put down that threat.
But he is just as happy serving as one of the guys who works the PBA trailer. For Fiocco, the reward has always been about being one of the guys and being part of the team, which is why he insisted on having the picture taken.
“All of those people, they are my family,” he reminds. “My cases are my cases, but the members at the Local, the guys at the County Conference, everybody at the state office, that’s what I’m going to miss most.”
Come February, Fiocco will retire to his boat from which he likes to go after all kinds of big game, especially shark. Oh, he might be gone fishing. But don’t be surprised to see that smile pop up in a picture.