The Maplewood Township Committee will be considering a resolution to merge the Maplewood Fire Department with the South Orange Fire Department at its August 6 meeting.
TC members previously discussed the proposed joint meeting structure of the merger with civil service employment at their July 16 meeting. Maplewood elected officials expressed majority support for the measure, which had been forwarded by the South Orange Board of Trustees. Read the discussion from the July 16 Maplewood TC meeting here.
The towns are aiming to operate a single fire department under a joint meeting structure effective January 1, 2020. The new combined department would be civil service, meaning that Maplewood firefighters would need to be incorporated into that system; South Orange is already civil service.
Although the firefighter unions have expressed no objections to joint meeting and civil service, the Maplewood Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (Local 25) has expressed dissatisfaction with the staffing levels proposed in the resolution via its Facebook page and has called for firefighters to show up in force at the August 6 meeting. A post on the page read in part, “Everyone’s help is needed to stop this reduced number from being part of the Resolution!!!”
(See Resolution No. 175-19 below on pages 71 and 72 of the August 6 meeting agenda.)
Chris Ariemma, president of Maplewood FMBA Local 25, told Village Green, “The current Table of Organizations, between the two Departments, totals 76 Firefighters. The proposal by the two towns to cut that number to 70, reduces the Table of Organization by six positions. Seventy falls below any nationally recognized standard, primarily, NFPA 1710. As proposed, the numbers lead both departments to go from two smaller understaffed departments, to one larger understaffed department. As far as what the staffing numbers should be, that has yet to be discussed with the FMBA or the Chiefs. We have not yet been able to offer those numbers. The towns’ plan was developed with no staffing input from the FMBA or the Chiefs.”
Village Green reached out for comment to Michael Commins of the South Orange FMBAs as well as Maplewood Fire Chief Michael Dingelstedt and South Orange Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan and has not yet received responses from them.
In response to Ariemma’s statement, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca told Village Green, “For the past year, we have been talking about 70 firefighters in the combined department. The resolution under consideration is an expression of commitment by the two governing bodies to move forward with the planning of the joint fire department. The firefighters union is free to offer their comments on Tuesday night.”
The resolution contains the following “agreements” of the Joint Exploratory Committee:
- No firehouses will be closed.
- No major apparatus will be removed.
- There will be 70 uniformed fire personnel with one Fire Chief.
- Each tour will have seventeen (17) personnel assigned with a minimum of fourteen (14) on-duty, with current minimum staffing levels unchanged in both departments.
- No layoffs. Any reduction in personnel will be achieved through attrition.
During the recent election campaign for South Orange Village President and Board of Trustees, the South Orange Forward slate contended that Village President Sheena Collum sought to reduce staffing at the South Orange firehouse from 8 uniformed personnel down to 3 per shift. However, elected officials said that the number of three — put forward in a study — was immediately abandoned. Former Trustee Mark Rosner, who initially sought to endorse neither candidate for Village President, told Village Green, “At no point in time did the board consider 3 firefighters. That was one of the recommendations [of the Manitou report] but the Board of Trustees and Sheena right away said, ‘We need six and preferred seven.’”
Rosner continued, “Also the 8 that we have now is a mythical number.” He said that between vacations, sick days and being short of staff, “7 is the reality.”
While firefighters have questioned whether the merger will result in much savings, elected officials have pointed to greater efficiencies in managing staff, equipment and property. Collum, for her part, has said that the fire department merger is a necessary step toward a greater goal: merging the towns. Collum stated at a public event with Gov. Phil Murphy in 2017: “I would say that as likely one of the only mayors or village presidents in the state — one thing that I would like to do is to dissolve my own office. It may not seem like a typical Democratic ideal, but we have way too much government that is happening throughout the state of New Jersey.”