By Ron Leir
Three more firefighters will be added to the rolls of the Kearny Fire Department later this year – assuming they make it through their training.
But it still won’t be enough to make a real difference to allow the town’s Bravest to reach optimum strength, conceded Mayor Alberto Santos and Fire Chief Steve Dyl.
And Santos said that unless Kearny hits the federal lottery, so to speak, by getting its application for SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant money to hire 15 more firefighters approved, the town doesn’t have the money to hire more personnel for at least the balance of 2014.
Meanwhile, Santos said the town is doing what it can to maintain a survival level of fire protection for its residents and businesses.
The three new men puts the total of able-bodied fire personnel, from the rawest recruit up through the chief, at 87 – far below the 102 that the department’s Table of Organization calls for.
On Feb. 25, the Kearny Town Council authorized the hiring of James Burgos, Kenneth Immersi and Mark Isabella as firefighters, effective March 3, at a starting rate of pay for fire trainees at $33,000 a year.
Chief Dyl said that the town had authorized hiring up to four firefighters last year but fiscal restraints limited the department to putting only one – Sean Brady – on its roster. The “balance due” is now being satisfied with the additional three men, he said.
Brady recently passed his mandated Fire Academy training and he’ll be considered a full-fledged firefighter as soon as he completes EMT training at Kearny Fire Headquarters, Dyl said.
Burgos, Immersi and Isabella are in the process of two weeks in-house orientation and they are scheduled to begin four months of training at the Essex County Fire Academy on March 17, Dyl said.
If all goes well, they should be ready to hit the streets by July, he said.
“We’re still waiting to hear about our SAFER application,” Dyl said. “We need that money desperately. In the meantime, the new guys are a nice shot in the arm and we’re glad we’re going in the right direction.”
Santos said he’s spoken with Rep. Bill Pascrell, who represents the Ninth Congressional District, which includes Kearny, to ask him to track the town’s SAFER application.
The absence of clearly defined grant award cycles complicates the process of calculating how the town may fare in the federal application review protocol, Santos said.
Personnel levels in the Fire Department could be impacted soon, Dyl said, if veterans in the ranks start putting in pension applications.
As of October 2014, according to departmental records, 19 employees will be eligible for retirement; another 10 could put in their papers in 2015 and eight more could follow in 2016, Dyl said. Cumulatively, that’s more than 40% of the department.
According to Dyl, the town last bolstered the ranks when it hired three firefighters in 2010. After one of them quit, he was replaced by another hiree in 2011, Dyl said.
Asked for background on the latest round of hiring, Dyl offered some details:
Burgos, 28, a Newark resident, has worked for Bank of New York since 2007, mostly recently as a section manager. After graduating from Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington, Burgos enrolled at Caldwell College where he earned an undergraduate degree in business.
Immersi, 31, grew up in Bloomfield where he graduated from Bloomfield High School. After apprenticing under the District Council of Ironworkers, he began working for Ironworkers Local 11 of Bloomfield in 2002. He’s currently living in Newark.
Isabella, 22, of Kearny, is a Kearny High School alumnus whose mother, Florence, is a Kearny school crossing guard. A U.S. Marine Reservist, Isabella has worked for Sanzari Construction of Hackensack since 2011. He has taken courses at Kean University.