New firefighter hired, but not without dissent

KEARNY —

The Town of Kearny has hired a new firefighter whose appointment was opposed by the town’s chief executive.

Matthew McCurrie, the son of a veteran Kearny firefighter, brother of a civilian KFD dispatcherand the relative of a member of the Town Council, was appointed to the Fire Department last Tuesday, Aug. 8, at a starting salary of $33,000 a year.

Six members of the governing body voted to hire McCurrie; two (Albino Cardoso and Michael Landy) were absent; and Mayor Alberto Santos voted against the appointment.

The vote came after a lengthy closed caucus which involved private discussion on various topics, including one listed on the council agenda as “review of qualifications to hire firefighters.”

In an email message to The Observer in which he was responding to a question about the appointment, Santos wrote that he voted “no” because, “I did not support changing our practice on qualification standards for the position of firefighter, which was done in order to make the appointment.”

When pressed for further explanation, he declined to elaborate.

McCurrie’s appointment was endorsed by two of three members of the council’s Fire CommitteeCouncilwoman Eileen Eckel, the chairwoman and Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, a cousin of the new hiree. Councilman Albino Cardoso, also on the fire committee, was away on vacation.

Council President Carol Jean Doyle told The Observer the governing body spent about 45 minutes during the private caucus hashing out the appointment in the context of qualification standards for firefighters.

The issue touched on the candidate’s “driver record” and the application of the state standardin considering that record in making the appointment, she said.

Based on the “excellent” briefing given the council by Fire Capt. Joseph Mastandrea – standing in for vacationing Chief Steven Dyl – Doyle said, “I myself did not struggle with this appointment.

“[Mastandrea] was asked outright if the chief had any objections [to the appointment] and he said, ‘No.’ We pay our police and fire chiefs top dollar and, in return, I expect them to give us direction as professionals. I listen to what they say and, most times, I agree with them. So, for that reason, I feel comfortable making this appointment,” Doyle said.

When the subject of nepotism came up during the closed session, Doyle said she “pointed out that both of our chiefs have sons in their respective departments. We have to be open about this.”

But Doyle went on to say that for her, the “bigger piece of this” is that “we had 50 people who qualified [for firefighter]. Now we’re down to our 49th one. We have a class starting [at the Fire Academy] Sept. 5. Do we want to go through this all over again? This was also part of my thought process.”

Robert Smith, the town’s business administrator, told The Observer that from what he’s been told, McCurrie, 26, is “an impressive young man and we think he’ll make a fine firefighter.” He has been working for a local trade union, according to Smith.

Smith said that McCurrie would join seven other recruits appointed in July for six weeks of training at the Morris County Fire Academy, in early September. That group is now completing EMT certification – something that McCurrie will have to deal with when he finishes at the Academy, Smith said.

By mid-November, Smith said, with the addition of the new hiree, the KFD – barring any retirements – should be up to full strength, at 102.

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.