Once again the matter of the fire and EMS coverage in Tuckerton was brought up in a public forum, with residents seeking reassurance.
The borough’s fire service is covered by Little Egg Harbor Fire Districts 1 and 3, and its EMS service is covered by Great Bay EMS. The service, which was provided under a shared services agreement in November, is offering Tuckerton temporary relief, since Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co. ordered to close on June 9, 2022.
The closure of the local fire company was the borough’s response to a letter dated June 6 from the senior planner coordinating the Coastal Fire in the NJ Department of Community Affairs, Division of Fire Safety. The letter outlines the fire company’s many shortcomings, and many citations. The various fines that have been imposed, plus insurance premiums as a result of the department’s shortfall, will be an unfair burden on local taxpayers, District Attorney Christopher Connors said, during a special meeting on June 6.
During a February 22 board meeting, South Green Street resident Gary Corriero asked if there were any plans to reinstate the fire company and what the process would look like.
“Reshaping Tuckerton Fire Co. had not been decided as of this evening,” said Connors, who added a decision could be made during an executive session.
Connors outlines the conditions under which the department can be reinstated. “They must comply with all standards in the Fire Safety Division, NJ Department of Health, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development with respect to PEOSHA because that is also an issue with Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co.” However, if the fire department cannot meet the aforementioned standards, “then we will quickly return to the situation we have now,” he said.
In terms of mutual assistance, “The West Tuckerton and Parkertown fire companies are now protecting Tuckerton.” While residents seem happy with the current coverage, Connors cautions that the coverage is “under a shared services agreement, which has an expiration date.” After expiration, the two companies will have to decide to go ahead with the arrangement, “and we’re not so sure they will,” Connors suggested. “In fact, there’s a good chance they won’t.”
If the shared services agreement expires and is not renewed, and Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co. not reinstated, the only alternative is for the borough to form its own department, Connors explained.
“Now that may sound appealing to a lot of people, but it costs a lot of money,” Connors warned. First, while the borough has a fire truck, it does not have a firehouse, which is owned by the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co. The cost of buying a firehouse will soon fall on taxpayers, he explained. Second, to meet the required standards, the kelurahan must obtain a sufficient number of volunteers, which are difficult to obtain in almost every district.
“The governing body is now negotiating in a way that won’t burden the taxpayer unnecessarily, and can get the protections needed to protect people,” Connors said. “If that continues, there will be some guarantees to fulfill, or else we will be right back where we were.”
While the reactivation of Tuckerton Fire Co. seems to be the implication, Connors emphasized, “We’re not going to put our fire trucks in the firehouse and not operate them properly, because that does not only threaten the fire service in the city. , but it poses a threat to the person hanging from the back of the truck, so we have to make sure they are protected as well.”
Connors continued, “Volunteering is incredibly difficult. It’s hard in every city.” Despite the fact that volunteers are sorely lacking, especially in the EMS department, the strict regulations imposed by the NJ Department of Health make it difficult for the squad to operate without being fined for shortages.
“That is the difficulty many cities face, because the requirements are so high that it is very difficult for volunteers to fulfill them without great expense, not just their own time.”
On the other hand, he continues, “we can’t have a fire company where two people answer 80% of the calls. We appreciate that dedication, but that says nothing about the viability of firefighting going forward. What happens if one or two of those people have a problem?”
After the delay, the board held an executive session to discuss contractual issues related to fire and EMS services.
—Monique M. Demopoulos