After complaint, deputy fire chief placed on paid leave

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A Dec. 4 letter alleging discriminatory and dangerous working conditions in the Bloomfield Fire Department has resulted in an investigation into the conduct of Deputy Fire Chief Lou Venezia, the brother of Mayor Michael Venezia.

The investigation, by an outside law firm, was confirmed in a Jan. 5 email to this newspaper by Philip Swibinski, the township spokesman.
Swibinski said the deputy chief has been placed on paid administrative leave since mid-December; that the investigation would be conducted by the law firm of Dvorak and Associates; and that the township would have no further comment until the investigation is concluded.

In the letter, to Township Attorney Michael Parlavecchio from Merick Limsky, an attorney representing Bloomfield Fire FMBA Local 19, multiple allegations regarding the conduct of the deputy chief were made. A copy of this letter has been obtained by The Independent Press from a confidential source. Its authenticity has been verified by Gino Cantelme, president of Local 19.

According to Cantelme, the Bloomfield Fire Department has 78 fire-fighting members: 71 are white; three are black; two are Asian; and two are Hispanic. The firefighters are all male and Local 19 represents 51 firefighting members.
Limsky’s letter alleged that Lou Venezia puts firefighters in danger “by operating outside of the norms for both training and how he directs members at live fire calls.”

The deputy chief is also alleged to use insulting and offensive language in addressing his subordinates, according the the letter sent by Limski.
Lou Venezia, it is also alleged, “has forced members to train to the point of vomiting and exhaustion even while they are on duty and expected to respond to calls for service.”

The letter says that Lou Venezia has allegedly “ordered members into a fire without waiting for backup which was outside the normal protocol.”
According to Limsky, if anyone disagrees with the deputy chief, he is alleged to respond that he is the mayor’s brother and protected.
“The deputy chief continually asked members of the fire department to make political donations and has said, ‘If you take care of my brother, I’ll take care of you,’” according to Limsky in his letter. The deputy chief is also alleged to have ordered the opening of a secret ballot box, according to the letter, to determine how firefighters voted for the executive board of the union.

“This was done because the deputy chief openly backed one candidate and wanted to find out who voted against him,” Limsky said in his letter.
The attorney said the fire department had no recourse but to consider legal actions against the deputy chief because of his relationship to the mayor.

“The FMBA would like to meet with you to discuss these issues in an effort to reach a resolution,” Limsky concluded in his letter.
The Bloomfield Council voted on Dec. 18, to retain Dvorak and Associates for a value of service between $17,500 and $25,000. Township Administrator Matthew Watkins was contacted via email for this story but did not respond.