NJ firefighters, town officials reach settlement

FireRescue1 Staff

LEONIA, N.J. — A volunteer fire department has agreed to dismiss its lawsuits against the city, opening the door to discussions between the two sides to resolve a14-month dispute.

NorthJersey.com reported that the Leonia Fire Company had filed two suits against the borough: The first contesting the temporary closure of the firehouse and suspension of the fire company after an alleged molestation of a 3-year-old at a firehouse last year, and the second challenging regulations enacted in October intended to give the borough council more oversight over the department.

A trial was set to begin Monday, but after several hours of negotiations, a settlement had been reached, according to the report.

The settlement must still be approved by the council, which is expected to vote on it Sept. 13.

"This is a good resolution for the time being," Justin Santagata, the fire company’s attorney, said. "It allows the parties to work on their differences removed from the threat of litigation, with the hope that further litigation is unnecessary."

A recent ordinance makes several concessions that firefighters have been asking for, including whether an individual with a criminal record can be a firefighter.

"Hopefully this gets everybody back to where we can move forward," Borough attorney Brian Giblin said. "I know both sides look forward to having meaningful discussions."

The settlement states that the borough and the fire company agree that they will give each other 48 hours of notice of any situation that might affect operation of the firehouse or in which mutual aid might be needed, according to the report. Firefighters had complained that they were not notified before the borough restricted access to the firehouse and rerouted emergency calls to neighboring municipalities after the alleged molestation.

Any firefighter suspended or terminated under the rules enacted in October is also entitled to a hearing that follows the guidelines set out in the new ordinance. Two firefighters – Fire Chief David Bohnert and Lt. Arnold Davenport – were terminated due to past criminal convictions. A third firefighter who failed his background check, Charles Pipitone, was suspended pending a hearing before the council.

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