Firemen call layoffs suspicious
Published in the Asbury Park Press 12/08/04
By BOB JORDAN
HOWELL -- A fire district has disbanded its paid firefighters unit by laying off all five firefighters, including two who were suspended in October after they had complained about workplace safety.
Fire district officials said the unit was primarily used for EMT response, and that the unit's work was duplicated by a Police Department EMT unit that was created this year.
But some of the fired workers said the disbanding was a result of the friction that had existed since the workers complained to state agencies about safety issues.
"This is direct retaliation to complaints," said Lt. Kevin Franz, a Fairfield (Essex County) resident who was fired along with Peter Sykes, Howell; Scott Alvarez, Toms River; Steven Spera, Wall; and Robert Underhill Jr., Wall.
"We had been threatened with our jobs and our pensions anytime we've asked about safety issues, pensions or anything job-related," Franz said.
William Donahue, the Freewood Acres district commissioner and a supervising administrator of the paid firefighters, could not be reached for comment.
Sykes and Alvarez were suspended for several days in October by fire district officials.
Thomas Canzanella, head of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, said the two firefighters had complained that the work uniforms issued by the fire district were not compliant with state safety and health directives.
Other workplace complaints that were made to the state Department of Labor and other agencies are still being reviewed, Canzanella said.
Sykes and Alvarez were reinstated by the township Board of Fire Commissioners at an October meeting that was attended by 50 uniformed firefighters from throughout the state.
The Freewood Acres firehouse is on Route 9 near West Fifth Street.
Lane Biviano, attorney for the fire district, said the unit's disbanding will save the fire district roughly $300,000 annually in wages and equipment.
Howell is among several local municipalities that augment their volunteer forces with a handful of paid firefighters. The township's Southard Fire Company on Route 9 began employing paid firefighters in 1989, and Freewood Acres added that component in May 2003.
The five Freewood Acres paid firefighters worked 7 a.m.-to-5 p.m. shifts, Mondays through Fridays, with each member having one day off during that span.
Sykes, 27, said he was paid $29,500 and was due to receive a raise to $31,500 next month.
"I bought a house in Howell to be closer to work and be part of the community," Sykes said. "I wanted to be a career firefighter, and I finally got the privilege to be one. Personally I think this is all due to retaliation."
Township Manager Bruce Davis said the fire districts are separate from the municipal government and have their own administration and budgets.
In June, the township Police Department launched its EMS Unit, which department officials said was designed to help volunteer first-aid squads cover weekday emergency calls.
The unit is staffed by about a dozen part-time special police officers cross-trained in first aid and law enforcement, Police Capt. Robert Scott said.
Scott said it was not expected that paid firefighters would be laid off because of the extra EMT coverage.
"Our unit can handle extra calls," Scott said, "but they better not come in all at the same time."
-- Bob Jordan: (732) 308-7751
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Thread: Firemen call layoffs suspicious
12-08-2004, 12:00 PM #1
Firemen call layoffs suspicious
Last edited by TruckSkipper; 12-13-2004 at 11:00 AM.DKK
IAFF Local 384:
"Above all, an assignment to a truck company should be considered a promotion."
Chief John W. Mittendorf-1998
12-08-2004, 02:47 PM #2
Sounds like a law suit will come of this.Stay Safe and Well Out There....
Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers
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