By Ron Leir
One year after the town designated East Orange to do the job, Kearny has done an about face and now is hiring civilians to handle local ambulance and fire response calls.
They could be starting to take those calls by sometime in September, predicted Fire Chief Steven Dyl. “They’re undergoing background checks and then they have to go through training.”
It was in July 2012 that the mayor and Town Council, acting on the recommendation of Dyl, voted to contract out the emergency response telecommunications duties to the East Orange Fire Department for about $90,000 a year in place of uniformed KFD personnel.
However, the town abandoned those plans when, after having installed the phone lines linking the Fire Department’s Maple St. communications center with East Orange, discovered that the town was left with an alarming “coverage gap” thanks to Superstorm Sandy playing havoc with the telecommunications technology.
Last Tuesday, July 16, the town governing body authorized hiring 15 men and six women as “part-time public safety telecommunicator trainees” (a non-competitive state Civil Service job title) assigned to the Fire Department “to work a maximum of 24 hours per week at the current hourly rate of $15.25.” Each will be on probation for 90 days upon starting their jobs.
As of last Wednesday, though, that number had declined by one after a male hiree notified the town he was withdrawing, Dyl said. It’s unclear at this point whether he’ll be replaced.
Mayor Alberto Santos said that since the money required to pay the new appointees hasn’t been budgeted, the council will be asked to approve an emergency appropriation to cover the expense. For a full year, the mayor estimated the cost at about $384,000, of which “less than half” will be needed for the balance of 2013.
Ultimately, Santos said, the town should still see “significant savings” by not having to pay overtime to firefighter personnel to satisfy minimum staffing levels at the town’s four fire companies. The town’s current Fire Department roster, which will stand at 83 as of Aug. 1, well short of the 102 called for by the KFD Table of Organization.
Two dispatchers will be assigned to each 8-hour shift on a rotation basis, Santos said. The dispatchers will be supervised “by the fire chief or a deputy fire chief,” he added.
“The application process yielded many qualified candidates,” Santos said, “including many in the mix who have previous experience as dispatchers with different organizations so it looks promising that we’ll be able to have a well-trained and knowledgable civilian dispatch center in the Kearny Fire Department.”
Eight of the 20 dispatchers are retired Kearny firefighters, the mayor noted.
“There won’t be a complete disengagement of uniformed services right away,” Santos said, since the Fire Department will need to ensure a smooth transition with appropriate protocols applied by the new employees.
The new dispatchers are: James Baille, Almecia Baskersville, Rosemarie Baloga, James Carey, Stewart Docherty, Robert Grusenski, Barry Hruby, Charles Kerr, Josephine Love-Lofflin, Kim Luciano-Alfieri, Brian McCurrie, Margaret Moore, Alex Penelva, Joseph Piumelli, Riboberto Rivera, Joseph Rizzolo, Stephen Taylor, Andrew Taylor Jr., Douglas Tilley and Diane Tilley.
Meanwhile, the Fire Department is faced with an increasing attrition rate in its ranks from retirements (the most recent being Capt. Michael Karlok looking to leave Aug. 1) while, at the same time, Santos said, the town is struggling with higher expenses but reduced revenues.
Nonetheless, he said, the town is committed to hiring more firefighters but they’re finding that problematic.
“Our original [Civil Service appointment] list of 30 [candidates] is down to one,” Santos said. “Some didn’t respond, some didn’t pass background checks – we’ve never had this kind of experience before.”
Santos said the town is hoping to hire more cops, possibly by next month. “How many, I don’t know,” he added.
What is known is that several municipal departments will be getting some part time help – and, as a result, will be better equipped to help the public. These new hires were approved by the mayor and council last week and they are as follows:
Finance: Miriam Seda will be payroll clerk; Daisy Solari will be a cashier in the tax collector’s office; and Elizabeth Blevis will assist the CFO with different projects.
Urban Enterprise Zone: Fatima Oliveira will split her time between UEZ and tax assessor.
Construction Code: Maria Quinteros will be a clerk/ typist. Health: Catherine Quintana will be a bilingual clerk/typist and assist with programs.