North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, the fire department that covers five North Hudson communities, has closed two of their 18 firehouses/companies, relocated two others, and made additional changes in the name of efficiency, officials announced Tuesday.
No longer will they rotate the closing of various firehouses for certain hours in order to save money. Instead, they have closed two permanently and will allow the others to stay open 24 hours.
But the head of the firefighter’s union said last week that the changes will sacrifice response time from certain locations and insisted the department needs more firefighters.
The NHRFR covers North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Weehawken, and Guttenberg.
According to the NHRFR chairperson, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, the Regional will now operate 15 companies, as opposed to its former 16 to 18. The department includes 273 firefighters, officers, and staff.
“We are confident in providing the same fire service we have all along.” – Richard Turner
In addition, the firehouse at 66th and Jackson in Guttenberg will now be used only for training, and will be supervised by a newly-assigned battalion chief. Previously it was the home of Rescue 1, which will also move to the new house at 43rd Street and Kennedy Boulevard.
The firehouse at 29th and Central Avenue, once home to Engine 4, Ladder 2, and Deputy 1, will no longer be a double house. The Regional has eliminated Ladder 2.
Turner said that approximately $500,000 in overtime costs will be saved from July 1 through the end of 2010. A newly-implemented Strategic Reorganization Plan which took over two years to create will save even more funds, said Turner.
“It doesn’t affect our operations,” said Turner. “Nothing negative about it and we are confident in providing the same fire service we have all along and we are sure rank and file members will agree over time.”
Reorganizing the department
Turner said that the Board of Commissioners has come to a consensus that 15 companies is the right number for the Regional.
“Having firehouses on top of one another isn’t efficient,” said Chief Brion McEldowney.
He continued, “You have to understand the standard across the county is to get an apparatus on the scene of a fire in five minutes. Our standard response has been slightly under two minutes. We have an unheard of response time because we have so many houses so close together. I see no difference in our response time.”
McEldowney said that responses to Tonnelle Avenue and North Bergen will be just as fast since the new firehouse is in a central location.
Turner said that rotated closings proved that the Regional does not need them.
Union: sacrificing efficiency
North Hudson Firefighters Association President Dominick Marino said that eliminating Ladder 2 will sacrifice their response time because “evidence shows that [a ladder and engine] responding at the same time eliminates the circumstances a lot quicker than having to wait.”
He also was upset over the closure of Engine 6.
“Everything else is on the top of the hill,” said Marino. “Nothing is on the bottom of the hill. The entire west area of North Bergen isn’t covered.”
Four men per house
Turner said that there will now be three firefighters and an officer stationed at each remaining company. He said that in previous fire responses, excess equipment showed up with not enough manpower.
Marino said there wasn’t enough personnel to keep the houses open. He said that 22 people were promoted to higher ranks last week, including 14 captains, five battalion chiefs, and two deputies, which increased the need for more firefighters.
He said the department was given the opportunity to hire three months ago, but they haven’t yet.
Turner said that hiring is being considered, based on upcoming retirements.
Marino said the issue isn’t about overtime, but about having enough manpower to operate fire trucks and fight fires.
Can’t pass the buck
Turner said that with the elimination of the Regional Efficiency Aid Program (REAP) in this year’s state budget – a tax credit that was, for a time, given to home owners in North Hudson because the departments regionalized – they now have to be more conscious of the costs they pass on to the taxpayer.
“You can’t go to Trenton for funds anymore,” said Turner. “You have to go to the taxpayers, and the taxpayers have their backs against the wall.”
Turner said that unions are “prone to pushing for manpower,” but that it is the Regional’s responsibility to make sure it was efficient and at the lowest cost possible.
Marino said that he is working on an efficiency study of the department.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.