Kearny names Kauffmann Deputy Fire Chief; contracts out fire dispatch service

By Ron Leir

It took just a dozen years for Bruce Kauffmann to rise through the ranks and win promotion to deputy fire chief of Kearny.

Since April 1, Kauffmann, 37, has been doing the job in an acting capacity. But protracted negotiations between the Fire Superior Officers Association and the town led to an agreement for a new labor contract and for naming Kauffmann to the deputy position permanently at an annual salary of $141,521.

His appointment took effect July 1.

The council also formalized the appointment of Firefighter Darrell Szezypta following his successful completion of his probationary period. A Hudson County Community College graduate, Szezypta spent six years in the National Guard and served in reconnaissance patrols between 2005 and 2007 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Surrounded by his wife Lisha and the coupleís three children, Gavin, 4, Colin, 2, and Calla, 2, Kauffmann was sworn in last Tuesday by Mayor Alberto Santos in the Town Hall council chambers.

ìIím excited about the challenges in my new position,î Kauffmann told the governing body and an audience of relatives, colleagues and well-wishers. ìYou can expect my very best.î

Kauffmann is the third generation of a Kearny Fire Dept. legacy: his late maternal grandfather, Luigi, served as a firefighter for about 18 years; father, Bruce Sr., put in more than 31 years until his retirement as chief fire inspector in 2004, and Bruce Sr.ís uncle put in 35 years with the department.

A Kearny High School alumnus who earned his B.A. at Seton Hall University, Kauffmann was promoted to fire captain in 2007.

Given his druthers, Kauffmannís preference was to be a cop, according to Bruce Sr.

ìHe wanted to be a state trooper but I always told him being a firefighter was a better job and thank God, he took the (state Civil Service) test (for firefighter),î said Bruce Sr. ìI didnít have to push him. He just ran with the football.î

On the test for deputy fire chief, Kauffmann ìcame out No. 3 in the state and No. 1 in Kearny,î his dad said. ìAnd he got a perfect score in the oral (part of the exam). ìWeíre pretty darned proud.î

Fire Chief Steve Dyl is proud of both Szezypta and Kauffmann. The chief credited the rookie for his recent work at a ìtough fireî on Beech St.  where ìhis training showedî in how he conducted himself. And, Dyl said, Kauffmann was ìput to the testî two months ago during a Belleville fire to which Kearny responded as part of a mutual aid group where, as acting deputy chief, Kauffmann successfully coordinated a command post involving 1,000 feet of hose extending over three blocks to attack a fire in a four-family residence.

Kauffmann, who becomes the departmentís fifth deputy chief, thereby filling out the Table of Organization for that rank, will be what Dyl characterized the ìadministrativeî deputy who will fill in for other deputies when needed and who will handle training activities.

Five deputies are justified, Dyl said. ìWe try to maintain a chain of leadership by having a deputy available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.î

In another fire-related development, at Dylís recommendation, the council voted to authorize contracting with the City of East Orange to provide shared fire dispatch services, conditional on East Orange ratifying the agreement.

If that happens, Santos said the contract calls for a three-year deal, with Kearny to pay East Orange $90,000 the first year, $91,350 the second year and $92,720 the third, with an option for Kearny to end the agreement after the first year if the town feels the service isnít working.

Under the contract, Kearny would spend an additional $6,500 for the installation of dedicated phone lines and software, the mayor said.

Santos said that until recently, the town had assigned four uniformed members of the Fire Department to handle dispatching duties ìand the cost, including benefits, had been in excess of $500,000, so we should realize a savings.î Currently, rank-and-file department members are handling dispatching, ìsometimes on overtime,î he said.

It is estimated that it would take ìfour to eight weeksî to implement the shared service, Santos said.

After the first six months of the new service, Santos said the town would look to have East Orange expand the service to channel calls for ìbasic life supportî directly to Kearnyís Volunteer Emergency Rescue Ambulance Squad, instead of alerting the Kearny Police, who would then send for an ambulance, as they now do.

Under the new system, Kearny residents wishing to report an emergency situation or fire would call 911 and the Jersey City-based 911 emergency center would then determine whether to call in MONOC, a private ambulance service certified by the state to respond to ìadvanced life supportî cases; or to call the Kearny volunteer ambulance; or to call the East Orange shared-dispatch center.

In case the 911 personnel canít reach East Orange, Santos said they have the capability to call Kearny Fire Dept. personnel or another first responder.

Santos said that the East Orange dispatch unit currently provides service for East Orange and ìa second townî and ìis currently negotiating with a third, so if that happens, weíd be the fourth.î

Santos said Kearny had considered going to the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) for shared dispatch but ìbecause of their ongoing restructuring with Rutgers University, they are currently not entering into any new agreements.î

Other than Kearny contracting with Bergen County to provide restaurant inspections, the proposed fire dispatch arrangement would be the only other municipal shared service, Santos said. The Kearny volunteer ambulance squad currently provides emergency services for Harrison but Santos said thatís done under a contract between the squad and Harrison.

In two other fire-related moves, the council appointed John Donovan as acting fire official/chief fire inspector pending a Civil Service exam and authorized filing a second application with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for grant funding to hire four firefighters. The town is still waiting to hear from the federal agency on a previously filed application, also for four new firefighters.

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