Fire Service: Furloughs put state at risk
By: DAVID LEVINSKY
Burlington County Times
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service will operate with a skeleton crew of wardens and firefighters Friday because of the state's mandated worker furloughs, and some members are worried that the unpaid day off could put the state at risk if a major fire sparks.
Members of the Forest Fire Service are being furloughed Friday along with other employees in agencies that fall under the umbrella of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP spokeswoman Darlene Yuhas confirmed that a large contingent of the Forest Fire Service will be off-duty as part of the furloughs, but she stressed that fire protection will be maintained by members who are exempt from the daylong layoff.
Yuhas said she did not know how many service members will be working. She said a protocol will be in place to recall furloughed firefighters if a large forest fire occurs.
"Forest fire observation functions are being staffed, and in the event of a fire or other emergency, there is a protocol in place to make sure the appropriate people are deployed," Yuhas said.
Service members have expressed concerns, noting that the service already is understaffed and that the furloughed members provide crucial support functions.
A May 15 memorandum from state Fire Warden Maris G. Gabliks to Assistant DEP Commissioner Amy Cradic that was obtained by the newspaper indicated that "temporary layoffs will reduce the already critical staffing level to 48 percent."
The memorandum indicated that support functions such as fire investigation, equipment transport and repair, incident management, telecommunications and aviation support and maintenance would be affected on the furlough day and that their absence would compromise the safety of full-time and part-time firefighters.
"I am unable to predict what fire danger the weather will bring on May 22, 2009 (or any future temporary layoff day), but I am able to report that the proposed temporary layoffs will compromise the safety of our personnel as well (as) reduce our capabilities to ensure public health and safety when wildfire strikes," Gabliks wrote. "Any reduction in staffing creates a void that can potentially compromise the safety of our full- and part-time work force."
Gabliks was unavailable Wednesday to comment on the memorandum.
Another Forest Fire Service member, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not permitted to speak to the media, said members exempt from the furloughs would be alone and responsible for covering territories spanning up to 100,000 acres.
The furlough day falls on the tail end of the dangerous spring forest fire season. Statewide forest fire danger was labeled "moderate" on Wednesday, but the member said conditions could become more dangerous by Friday. The National Weather Service is forecasting clear and sunny conditions for the day.
"In New Jersey, it only takes a couple days of nice weather for things to dry out and become dangerous," the service member said.
Members of the Forest Fire Service have submitted a formal appeal of the furloughs to the New Jersey Department of Civil Service. A spokesman for the department said no ruling has been made about that request or numerous others received from other affected workers.
The furloughs, which technically are considered temporary layoffs, are part of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's plan to balance the current fiscal year budget.
Additional furlough days are possible as part of the governor's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That plan is being reviewed by the state Legislature.
Yuhas said the state's dire financial crisis makes furloughs necessary, but public safety was a major consideration in their implementation.
"The reality is that (on) one-day furloughs are being implemented across the state due to the decrease in state revenues linked to the national recession," she said. "The furloughs are mandatory, but we planned for it with an eye towards public safety. Contingency plans are also in place in the event of an emergency."
Yuhas said the DEP's Communications Center will remain operational and residents can report any environmental emergency by calling 1-877-WARN-DEP. All parks and forests will remain open.
May 21, 2009 03:10 AM
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05-21-2009, 11:27 PM #1
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NJFFS: Furloughs put state at risk
Last edited by Deputy10D9; 05-21-2009 at 11:32 PM.
05-22-2009, 09:33 AM #2The memorandum indicated that support functions such as fire investigation, equipment transport and repair, incident management, telecommunications and aviation support and maintenance would be affected on the furlough day and that their absence would compromise the safety of full-time and part-time firefighters."This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
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