Town officials are seeing red around the Kearny Fire Department but it’s not flames that have their attention.
KFD is awash in red ink: Seems the department has exceeded its budgeted allocation of overtime anticipated for 2015.
The issue was slated for discussion during a closed caucus at the Aug. 11 meeting of the mayor and Town Council. Mayor Alberto Santos said last week that, “We do have an issue with how we maintain five fire companies with minimum staffing of 15 per shift for the next three months.”
That is the case, Santos said, because “we have expended all Fire Department overtime allotted for this year.”
Town CFO Shuaib Firozvi confirmed that the $925,000 earmarked for O.T. for 2015 is used up but noted that the town was able to apply “some savings” resulting from KFD retirements to stretch out the OT a bit.
How did it happen?
Fire Chief Steve Dyl told The Observer last week that, “We had an unprecedented 18 retirements in one year and one of our new recruits left us for the police department. That has caused severe strain on our manpower.”
For those wondering about similar strains that may have arisen in the Kearny Police Department, Firozvi said that $1.2 million had been budgeted for police O.T. this year. Asked where the KPD stood, Firozvi said the town appeared to be “on target” with those expenditures.
As for the KFD, the mayor said he anticipated convening a special council meeting later this month to deal with the crisis. Until then, he said, the town’s administrative personnel, including the chief, would sit with KFD’s union representatives on possible remedies.
Under a worst-case scenario, Santos said the department may have to resort to implementing a “reduction from five to four active companies with a reduced minimum staffing from 15 to 12 [per shift].”
Asked about that possibility, Dyl maintained that, “I am not supporting the closing of a company or the reduction of manpower [on KFD rigs]. We already did that in May 2012 and that ladder company on Midland [Ave.] is still closed. As of now, we have four pumpers and one ladder active. We’ll re-evaluate the situation as we go along as our manpower levels settle.”
Given that the number of calls for service continues to rise each year, Dyl said he’s been hard-pressed to keep up.
Still, despite the high turnover levels in the department, the town’s governing body has not been unresponsive. It encouraged Dyl to petition the federal government – for a fourth time – for funding under the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant program and, this year, finally hit pay day when the U.S. Homeland Security agency, through FEMA, awarded Kearny $1,595,844 over two years to fill 12 firefighter slots vacated through retirements.
Before that, the Town Council – with permission from the state monitor – authorized the hiring of 10 firefighters – for which the town must absorb the full costs – who are expected to graduate from the fire training academy by midto late November.
And last Tuesday – also with the monitor’s blessing – the council cleared the hiring of four additional firefighters, effective Sept. 8, who will also be paid exclusively with municipal funds. Each will earn a starting salary of $33,000 a year.
The council also approved the promotion of Firefighter Richard Lowinger to the rank of captain at $103,637, effective Sept. 1. Lowinger, hired in April 2005, has received commendations for his work during Super Storm Sandy in 2012 and for aiding in the rescue of an injured construction worker who fell off a barge in the Hackensack River in 2013.
The new firefighters are: Claudio Chaves of Kearny and Newark residents Christopher Morales, Daniel Neves and Samuel DeJesus Jr.
Chaves, 31, is a Kearny High School graduate who attended classes at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Montclair University to qualify for a degree in English. He worked previously as a customer service representative for W.B. Mason office supplies in Secaucus.
Morales, 25, earned a degree in business from Penn State University and is now pursuing an associate science degree in accounting at Essex County College. He worked previously for Samuel Klein & Co., Newark.
Neves, 29, attended Union County College and is now going for a business degree at Kean University. He worked as a material handler for Johnstone Supply Co., Kenilworth.
DeJesus Jr., 26, received certification as an auto technician from Lincoln Technical Institute, Union, and served as a car inspector for NJ Transit in North Bergen.
Dyl said these recruits – assuming they pass their training – should be ready for duty by December.