This story was updated April 29, 2019 with a response from the Maplewood FMBA representative.
Ten days after a negative campaign flier in South Orange brought the topic of a proposed Maplewood/South Orange fire department consolidation to the forefront, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca posted a rebuttal on Facebook, detailing the history of consolidation talks and providing a sobering take on the “real and justifiable concerns” that leaders and firefighters in both towns have voiced in the process of consolidation.
Regardless of those concerns, however, DeLuca wrote, “Decisions about providing fire and emergency response services are far too important to be made by campaign sound bites and fear tactics.” DeLuca then provided updates to the public on the current state of negotiations, including staffing scenarios, potential governance structures, a funding scenario and “sticking points.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Maplewood Fire Capt. and FMBA local 25 rep Chris Ariemma echoed DeLuca is his desire to keep the conversation about shared services from becoming political. He told Village Green that the Maplewood FMBA is “not backing a candidate” and “not putting out an op-ed” as their colleagues in South Orange had done.
However, Ariemma said DeLuca’s statement was lacking in one area: Although Ariemma said that DeLuca had been responsive throughout the process to firefighters’ questions, they had not been included in discussions — until a March 18 meeting with the state shared services “czars.” Ariemma said that Maplewood firefighters did want a place at the table in merger discussions — as he offered scenarios for EMS configuration and also said that Maplewood firefighters are open to civil service if they can be assured of parity.
“We’re not against this,” said Ariemma, “but we want to be a part of it too.”
Read DeLuca’s full post here:
The Real Story about Consolidating Fire Services in Maplewood and South Orange
For over 20 years, governing body members in South Orange and Maplewood have discussed ways in which to share fire services. We are now at a point where there are serious options to consider but unfortunately politics has gotten in the way.
Decisions about providing fire and emergency response services are far too important to be made by campaign sound bites and fear tactics. We are talking about the lives and properties of those who live, visit, work, attend school, and own property in our two towns. I can assure you that those of us elected in Maplewood and South Orange understand the seriousness of providing fire services and would do nothing to jeopardize the safety of the people we represent.
It would be a huge loss for one or both governing bodies to walk away from this opportunity because of political pressure. With a consolidated fire department more personnel and equipment will be on the scene faster and be under a unified command structure. Additionally, in two tax strapped towns it would be irresponsible for elected officials not to explore ways to share services and deliver those services more efficiently.
How Did We Get Here?
In mid-2015, newly elected South Orange Village President [Sheena Collum] contacted Maplewood Mayor Victor De Luca to discuss opportunities for sharing municipal services, including the fire departments. In September 2015, the two governing bodies adopted resolutions setting up a “Joint Exploratory Committee” to investigate possible shared efficiencies in the delivery of fire protection services. The goals of the exploration were:
- To provide the highest quality fire services to the residents of Maplewood and South Orange;
- To maintain an appropriate level of firefighting personnel and equipment to adequately respond to fire, emergency and hazardous incidents in Maplewood and South Orange; and
- To achieve economic and operational efficiencies.
After a series of meetings by the Joint Exploratory Committee, it was determined that we needed an expert to evaluate our current fire services and determine if it made sense to pursue some type of consolidation.
In February 2016, the two towns issued a request for proposal for “an analysis of the operational efficiencies of and the feasibility of consolidation, merger or sharing of South Orange and Maplewood fire protection services.” In July 2016 a contract was awarded to Manitou Incorporated, which issued a final report in October 2017.
Manitou “found robust evidence that increased efficiency, better service and cost savings are possible through a consolidation of the two separate fire departments into a single entity. Our findings are clear –the communities of Maplewood and South Orange would be better served by combining their fire departments into a single entity.”
Manitou also stated, “The current fire stations serving the communities will remain in service, and both forces would fall under a common set of operational procedures and leadership, which will improve effectiveness and coordination.”
Meetings with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division of Local Government Services
In May 2017, the Joint Exploratory Committee met in Trenton with the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs and leadership of the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS). The DLGS staff outlined a couple of options for sharing services including a joint meeting and a consolidation. They described the Belmar/Lake Como model of consolidating two police departments and joint meeting model of combining five separate fire departments into North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue. A Memorandum of Understanding was executed to enable the DLGS to “provide the necessary resources to aid [Maplewood and South Orange] in developing and executing a plan to combine their fire services.”
Where Are We Now?
Since the Manitou Report was issued, the Joint Exploratory Committee, consisting of South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, South Orange Board of Trustee Member Howard Levison, South Orange Administrator Adam Loehner, Maplewood Mayor Victor De Luca, Maplewood Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee and Maplewood Administrator Sonia Viveiros, has primarily focused on how a consolidated fire department would be structured, managed and financed.
The Joint Exploratory Committee reached a number of agreements that have guided our discussions:
- No fire houses will be closed. The three current fire houses – South Orange Firehouse onSloan Street, Maplewood Firehouse on Dunnell Road and Maplewood Firehouse on Boyden Avenue – will remain open.
- No fire apparatus will be removed. The South Orange Firehouse will continue to house a truck and an engine. The Maplewood Firehouse on Dunnell Road will continue to house a truck and an engine and the Maplewood Firehouse on Boyden Avenue will continue to house an engine.
- There will be 70 uniformed fire personnel, with one fire chief. There will be four shifts, with each shift having 17 personnel assigned with a minimum of 14 on-duty. Currently the maximum per shift is 18 and the minimum is 14 on-duty. Staffing levels shall not be less than 8 on-duty in Maplewood and 6 on-duty inSouth Orange, which is consistent with current staffing minimums.
- There will not be lay-offs. If necessary, reductions in force will come from retirements and not layoffs and any reductions will be done in compliance with state laws and regulations.
How will a consolidated fire department be funded?
The annual operating costs shall be shared on a formula using the assessed value, including exempt properties, of South Orange and Maplewood as determined by the State of New Jersey Division of Taxation. Using this formula, the breakdown is projected to be Maplewood at 55 percent and South Orange at 45 percent.
We are still exploring legal, bonding and insurance requirements for existing equipment and vehicles and have not determined if one town, each town or a new joint entity will be the owner. Capital costs for new equipment and vehicles will be shared although the breakdown for those costs is still under discussion.
What are the two big sticking points to achieving a consolidation?
- South Orange municipal employees are covered by New Jersey Civil Service and Maplewood municipal employees do not participate in Civil Service. Both South Orange and Maplewood firefighters are concerned about the loss of current job protections, retention of ranks and salaries, and the future appointment process. These are real and justifiable concerns that the Joint Exploratory Committee has discussed and is prepared to discuss in more detail with the firefighters.
- Maplewood Fire Department provides Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and South Orange Fire Department does not. The Maplewood Township Committee wants the newly constituted fire department to continue to provide EMS in Maplewood. The Township Committee recognizes that Maplewood would have to cover all costs associated with the provision of EMS in Maplewood. A bifurcated system of EMS presents challenges to hiring, assigning and promoting firefighters.
What are the next steps?
For the past year, the working assumption for the consolidation has been using the model recommended by the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services – Maplewood serving as the lead agency and being legally and fiscally responsible for the operation of the consolidated fire department. This model would include a Fire Services Board with equal representation from the two towns that would review and give prior consent to policy and management matters of the consolidated fire department,
It should be stated that South Orange representatives on the Joint Exploratory Committee have consistently called for a joint or shared management structure for a consolidated fire department. They have had reservations about the consolidation model recommended by DLGS because final decision making would rest with Maplewood.
The Joint Exploratory Committee also has been working with Governor Murphy’s Service Sharing “Czars” to look at other management options. In mid-May, the Czars set up a meeting between the Joint Exploratory Committee and state and local firefighter unions to discuss current plans and options for a way forward. The Joint Exploratory Committee is now seriously considering establishing a Joint Meeting Fire Department. In this model, both Maplewood and South Orange firefighters would be transferred to the Joint Meeting and the Joint Meeting would become part of the New Jersey Civil Service system. South Orange and Maplewood would jointly manage the new fire department.
The governing bodies of the two towns have agreed to explore this option, although there continue to be concerns that need to be worked out. We’ve made it clear to the Governor’s Service Sharing Czars the two towns would only move forward with this option if the state provides sufficient assistance and support in order to make a new joint meeting concept work for all parties.
The Joint Management Committee is planning to work on this new management option during the next few months. If the joint meeting fire department is feasible and improves fire services and cost efficiencies for both towns, we will target a start date in early 2020.