After vehemently objecting to the use of a first-of-its-kind bilingual list to hire new firefighters, the township of North Bergen came to an agreement Monday with officials representing the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad to use the list, as well as another existing list, in order to find suitable 20 candidates.
The agreement now clears the way for 20 new firefighters to be hired as soon as possible, possibly within the next three months.
The new firefighters will bring the NHRFR squad’s total number of personnel to 310.In July, the state Department of Personnel announced that there were three available lists that the NHRFR could use for hiring. There was a regular list of approximately 150 candidates, a special list of approximately 50 Hispanic candidates who were bilingual, and a preferential list of six Guttenberg candidates who were once members of its township’s volunteer fire department.
North Bergen officials vehemently opposed the use of the bilingual list, claiming that it would give preferential treatment to the Hispanic candidates and that it would open the door for possible lawsuits for discrimination.
North Bergen has been embroiled in previous racial discrimination suits with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in regards to the township’s hiring of minority police officers and the township’s former resident-only hiring procedure.
Therefore, the township was looking to avoid similar discrimination charges within its fire department as well.
Plus, the bilingual list was requested by the Union City Fire Department long before the idea for regionalization went into effect in January, 1999. North Bergen officials then claimed that the old bilingual list should no longer be in effect because of the regionalization.
However, North Bergen realized that it was outnumbered in the fight and agreed to allow the bilingual list to be used during the NHRFR’s meeting last week.
“We’ve agreed to hire off both lists,” township attorney Herb Klitzner said. “We initially had some concerns about it, but we eventually felt that hiring off both lists was the way to go.”
It is still very uncertain as to how the NHRFR will use the two lists to hire new candidates. Some officials were stunned to find out that two lists actually existed. “I wasn’t aware that there was a bilingual list to begin with,” said North Hudson Officers Association President Brian McGorty. “It seems as if a lot of the candidates appear on both lists. I know that the bilingual list was established strictly for Union City. I was surprised to find out that there still was one. It really is confusing, because the regional has not called for a bilingual list. I don’t want to see anything that will hinder the hiring of new firefighters. If it winds up in litigation, it could be a setback.”
Still, McGorty was pleased to find that the five municipalities that participate in the regionalization finally agreed to hire new firefighters.
“Any time that they determined that they want to hire more personnel, we’re very pleased,” McGorty said. “We’re glad that they were able to resolve their differences, because we desperately need more firefighters. And given the dynamics of the area in which we work, it makes sense to have bilingual firefighters. It’s an asset. I would figure that some of the candidates that are at the top of the bilingual list are also at the top of the regular list, so we’re ready to welcome them.”
Added McGorty: “I’m thrilled. Adding 20 new members is a step in the right direction. It doesn’t satisfy the needs, but it is a step.”