On September 14, the South Orange Board of Trustees followed in the footsteps of Maplewood officials by unanimously passing a resolution (2020-215) to have a joint exploratory committee provide a plan for automatic fire response between the two towns’ fire departments, a step toward consolidating the departments.
The plan is due to be delivered to both governing bodies by October 9, after which officials will need to vote to take action.
In response to South Orange Trustee Donna Coallier bringing up the question about when the “actual merger might get started” (to give the community a sense of the process and financial aspect vis a vis the 2021 Budget), Village President Sheena Collum explained, “We don’t know how and when we might get money for implementation.” Collum mentioned the variety of costs – administrative, training, equipment, etc. – that are involved and that she did not have an answer to that question.
For several years, the two towns have been working to form the South Mountain Regional Fire Department, a consolidated fire department that would be run by a joint meeting structure. The consolidated department was first expected to begin in fall 2019, then January 2020, then April 2020, when the process was interrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Within the next week or so we will be transmitting the resolution and indicating that we’d like to begin having our conversations again,” Collum said.
Coallier added, “The state is very much willing to help with some of the costs of executing that merger. We certainly want to avail ourselves of those costs and make sure that they’re with us, in partnering with us, they the state, when we get this done so that it’s as financially advantageous as possible.”
On September 1, the Maplewood Township Committee approved an identical resolution allowing the joint exploratory committee, which is made up of officials from both South Orange and Maplewood, to work with the fire chiefs and other personnel of the South Orange Fire Department and the Maplewood Fire Department to establish an automatic response agreement between the departments by October 9.
According to Maplewood Township Committee member Vic DeLuca, joint automatic response will allow the South Orange and Maplewood fire departments to work together, allowing for a more robust response to fires, sharing training and forming relationships that will hopefully aid in the eventual planned consolidation of the two departments.