LEONIA, N.J. — Local council members introduced changes to its fire department regulations Monday that — if adopted — could help resolve the 14-month dispute with its firefighters.
NorthJersey.com reported that borough officials and firefighters have been divided since June 2013, when the borough briefly closed the firehouse and suspended the fire company in reaction to an alleged child molestation at the firehouse.
In October, the council enacted new regulations to give the borough more oversight over the volunteer fire department, according to the report.
"I for one want to put this behind the borough," Councilman Greg Makroulakis said.
The fire company is suing the borough for closing the firehouse, suspending the fire company and over the new regulations.
Fire company President Brendan Reilly called the borough’s changes "a step in the right direction," but said the two sides still had issues to work out, according to the report.
Those issues include stipends for the volunteer firefighters, the amount of which are not specified in the borough’s ordinances.
The most significant change would be that the council’s fire committee would have discretion in deciding whether an individual with a criminal record could be a firefighter, according to the report. The fire committee would be able to consider how old the person was when the crime was committed and when the offense took place.
Firefighters have objected to the recent expulsion of two long-standing members — Fire Chief David Bohnert and Lt. Arnold Davenport — for crimes committed more than 15 years ago. A third member, Charles Pipitone, has been suspended pending a hearing before the council, according to the report.
Other changes in the regulations include:
- The fire chief would be involved in the fire department application process. The fire chief would have 30 days to make a recommendation to the council’s fire committee. The council would then vote on the application.
- Fire department members would elect their deputy chief, captain and lieutenants. The mayor currently appoints these officers.
- Firefighters could undergo a physical examination by their own doctors, rather than one selected by the borough.
- The borough would enter into an agreement with the fire company “for purposes of extinguishing fires and for such other purposes as the borough shall deem appropriate.”
- The council will provide all active firefighters with $25,000 in life insurance. Currently, members are covered only through their 70th birthday; retired members over 70 or who have served at least 25 years receive $12,500 in life insurance.