Erkan Sidar remembers his father as a man who could turn a family outing into an opportunity to fight crime.
“We were at a picnic and two guys robbed an ice cream truck,” the 15-year-old Springfield resident said. His father saw the crime and snapped into action.
Tony Sidar and his friend chased the robber as he tried to escape by running down a creek at the Woodbridge park.
“My father caught up with him and then he punched him in the face,” Erkan Sidar said.
That was close to a normal day for the Sidars. Tony Sidar lived to help people. And, until his death earlier this year, opportunities to help presented themselves often.
He would step on a subway train and talk down a group of armed thugs. A family picnic would see him run down an attempted robber. At a Springfield festival he’d find a lost child. Even when he was battling Leukemia in a hospital bed, he would reach out to people and find ways to make their lives better.
As a professional ambulance driver in Brooklyn, as a First Aid Squad member and Auxiliary Police Officer in Springfield and as a private citizen throughout his life, Tony Sidar collected commendations by putting himself on the line again and again. But, his friends and family say, he wasn’t driven by a thirst for glory. He was just always hungry to help.
“He loved serving the community,” Erkan Sidar said. “He loved helping people. He was always a person who helped other people. He didn’t care about his personal safety.”
Public safety professionals and volunteers alike said that if trouble was afoot, Sidar would be there. And if Sidar was there, they knew trouble wasn’t going to last.
“He was always working,” Police Auxiliary Deputy Cheif Scott Seidel said. “If we had an emergency he would be one of the first members there.”
As much as Sidar was a blessing for the people who needed him, needing to be there for people could sometimes be a burden.
“A guy like him, and a guy like me, you want to help. And it’s a challenge. You burn yourself out,” Springfield Chief of Police John Cook said. “You know there are people who need you and you want to be there for them. It’s physically taxing.”
Born in Turkey and raised in Brooklyn, Sidar wanted to make public safety his career at an early age.
“Tony always wanted to be in law enforcement,” his wife, Ayfer Sidar, said. “I persuaded him otherwise.”
At the insistence of Ayfer, Sidar became a professional emergency medical technician, working with a metro ambulance in New York in the early ‘90s. Though he loved the work, it took its toll.
“He was busy a lot,” Ayfer said. “In Brooklyn, it was pretty rough. It’s not just responding to minor issues. There were patients he was close to. They would pass away and it would affect him deeply.”
But even with his busy schedule and with grim realities at his work weighing on him, Sidar still took advantage of every opportunity to help. Ayfer remembered one night where Tony was late to pick her up for a date. She was confused and concerned—Sidar was normally very punctual—until her phone rang. It was Sidar, saying he was at a police station.
On his subway ride to pick up Ayfer, a scuffle broke out between a group of thugs and an NYPD officer. The thugs managed to steal the officer’s gun and aim it at him. Tony stepped in front of the officer and talked the group down from shooting, diffusing the situation long enough for the train to arrive at the next stop, where NYPD officers were waiting.
The NYPD and New York City Mayor Ed Koch honored Sidar with a certificate of heroism for his actions.
After four years responding to emergencies in New York—including the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993—Sidar changed career paths in 1994. He became a superintendent of a building, a job where he quickly found he was still able to have a positive impact on his environment.
“The back of the building was really bad,” Ayfer said. “He cleaned it up.”
He was still working in property maintenance when he moved his family to Springfield in 1998, managing the General Greene Village apartments. After coming to Springfield, he joined the First Aid Squad, happy to find local people who shared his commitment to helping fellow citizens. First as a squad member and then later as a volunteer for the township’s auxiliary police force, Sidar was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of working in law enforcement.
When he joined the auxiliary squad in 2005, his excitement about being part of the unit was evident from day one.
“He used to call me and tell me he was coming home from work,” Erkan Sidar said. “He’d say ‘I’m coming home’ and hang up.”
The first time Tony placed that call, his son wasn’t sure what it meant. By the second time, he knew: get the uniform ready.
His emergency response expertise and positive attitudes were boons for the township, and so was his enthusiasm. Sidar always went well above and beyond as a volunteer.
“Our typical officer is only required to work 96 hours a year,” Seidel said. “Most work about that. Then you get people like Tony who would double or triple that number.”
The Township began to rely on Sidar as a key component of its public safety force. Cook and Sidar developed a friendship that would become an important part of both their lives.
“We developed a spiritual bond,” Cook said. “I was a sergeant at the time. He did so well with what he did.”
Cook said Sidar was so good at being a member of the auxiliary squad he changed the nature of the volunteer position. Auxiliary force members started taking on more responsibilities. Cook said that Sidar was always the first guy they’d call.
“He did traffic emergencies and traffic details,” Cook said. “He was very professional. I never had any doubt about him.”
Cook said that Sidar provided invaluable advice and friendship when Cook was moving up ranks in the department from Sergeant to Captain and Officer in Charge.
“We always talked about what leadership was and what it should be,” Cook said. “It’s not about power. It’s about knowing what power is good for.”
Later, when Cook became chief of the department, he thanked Sidar for his advice and friendship. Sadly, Sidar wasn’t alive to hear the speech. Following a two-year battle with Leukemia, Sidar died of complications from the disease in July of 2011.
His death was sudden and particularly tragic. The disease had gone into remission, and it looked for a long time like he was going to pull through. As late as the fall of 2010, he was instrumental in finding a missing child lost during the annual Fall for Springfield festival.
“If anybody was going to find him, Tony was,” Cook said.
That year, for the second time, Springfield’s Office of Emergency Management named Sidar Auxiliary Police Officer of the year.
Then, in 2011, he contracted double pneumonia while recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Seidel said he was working on the auxiliary force until the day before he went back to the hospital. Throughout his ordeal, friends said, he remained upbeat.
“Everybody loved him on the floor,” Cook said. “Even in the hospital. He was out there, no matter what. Not matter what he was going through he’d go and help someone else.”
He added: “There was something special about Tony."