Recently I received a letter in the mail from the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Fire Commissioners District 1 stating in the next budget year they are seeking tax-payer approval to hire a full-time fire chief and several per-diem firefighters and officers to staff the district from the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. In this letter, they stated that they need to urgently implement this plan due to an ever-increasing call volume as well as low volunteer turnout which is increasing response time. While I understand that both manpower and response time is critical to the protection of life and property in the district, I do not believe the commissioners have done a thorough job of explaining why this is needed now, and in such haste. In their letter they have provided no evidence to back the claims made, nor have they done a satisfactory job of explaining why this is needed so urgently. This letter does not even break down the number of calls the department receives during the Monday to Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. window nor what the current average volunteer manpower is per call or their response time.
Also, this letter does not say anything about any of the measures that the commissioners have taken to try and avoid this outcome. The Mount Tabor Fire Department is one of six fire districts in the town of Parsippany, with each district operating independently. In the past, other districts have relied on neighboring districts to help fulfill staffing when needed. Has the district looked into having another district assist them with calls? Additionally, what has the district done to try to increase recruitment? The website tells of an incentive program but does not go into any more detail than that.
Furthermore, this letter does a terrible job of explaining how they came to the $640,000 estimate that would be required for payroll and expenses. A quick Google search shows the average pay for a firefighter in New Jersey is $30 per hour. So, for 3 firefighters at 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year would be $280,800. Nearly half of the estimated budget and you still haven’t considered the officers and chief’s salary (which would undoubtedly be higher) as well as pension, benefits, insurance, training, PPE, and any other costs associated with having a paid staff. I believe this estimate to be deceptively low. Also, the commissioners do not explain in the letter how having a paid crew in a volunteer town would work. Would a paid crew respond to an area of the town covered by volunteers? Would a neighboring volunteer chief call for District 1 more because they know of the staffing? Or what about out-of-town calls? I don’t believe that would be fair to the residents who would pay for this staffing and have them not be available because they are covering for a volunteer crew.
Another thing is I don’t believe the current residents should have to shoulder the cost of this, at least the initial implementation if it is essential. I’m sure one of the arguments for hiring a paid crew is the amount of building happening in town right now. There have been more than a few articles about how Parsippany is using the PILOT program to develop new housing projects. Have the fire commissions been in contact with the Parsippany town council about collecting some sort of payment from those developers?
However, what this letter did attempt to do in my opinion is try to scare the residents into thinking that the volunteer members of the Mount Tabor Fire Department do not adequately protect them. Per the department’s website, they have 40+ active members, yet the commissions specifically chose to bold and italic the sentence telling you how a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. While that statement is true, it only truly pertains to a fire in perfect conditions, i.e. NOT in a home or building with the doors and windows shut. Including that line was nothing but a fear tactic. If the commissions were truly worried about the lives and property of the tax-paying residents of the district they would be explaining with supporting facts and figures about how they have tried other options and this is the only feasible solution, instead of trying to scare you.
The Board of Fire Commissioners is holding a meeting on Wednesday, December 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tarn Drive Fire House located at 909 Tabor Road. I would encourage the tax-paying residents of District 1 to attend that meeting and ask these questions of your elected officials to make sure you agree with what they plan to increase your taxes for.