Spat with fire chief leads to firing

EAST NEWARK –

An East Newark volunteer firefighter has been fired following a verbal blow-up with the chief of the Fire Department.

The Borough Council voted last Wednesday, July 8, to affirm the termination of Firefighter Ed McKeown, following an administrative hearing held by the council on June 25.

McKeown, who has served as a member of the borough’s all-volunteer department for the past eight years, was charged with insubordination, conduct unbecoming and failure to respect a superior officer, according to Borough Counsel Neil Marotta.

Marotta and Mayor Joseph Smith told The Observer that the incident that triggered the disciplinary charges filed against the volunteer happened on May 31, 2015, on the grounds of the East Newark Firehouse next to Borough Hall.

Marotta said that the charges stemmed from “the manner in which [McKeown] addressed the (fire) chief (Kenneth Graham). [McKeown] was yelling, complaining about something. He was asked to stop and he failed to comply.”

Pressed for more details, Smith said that McKeown complained about certain issues related to “maintenance” of fire equipment, notably a ladder truck.

The mayor said that Graham “inherited” those issues “when he became chief in January.” Smith said the chief “advised McKeown those things were being addressed and tried to have him calm down.”

And, in fact, Smith added, “within three to five days of this incident, these things were being taken care of.” The mayor did not elaborate.

Reportedly, a letter of complaint about a particular equipment maintenance issue was sent to the U.S. Public Occupational Safety & Health Administration (POSHA) at around the time of the incident involving McKeown and Graham but The Observer could not verify that by press time.

In any event, the chief recommended that McKeown be terminated, Marotta said, and the council agreed to impose that penalty.

Typically, Smith said, disciplinary matters are handled by the Fire Department but in this case, he added, since “a majority of the [fire] officers were among the witnesses at the hearing,” it was deemed fairer to have the governing body deal with the matter.

While there have been prior suspensions and resignations of volunteer firefighters in the borough, Smith said this is the first time in the nearly 30 years that he has served in local government that a volunteer has been dismissed.

Currently, the borough has some 26 volunteer firefighters on its roster, Smith said.

Reached for comment, McKeown – who is employed by the Kearny Fire Department as a part-time civilian dispatcher – declined to be interviewed at this time.

Although McKeown lives in Kearny, he is eligible to serve as an East Newark volunteer firefighter based on a borough policy that permits members to be residents of Kearny or Harrison, provided they reside within a certain distance of the borough.

– Ron Leir 

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.