Two towns move ahead with fire dept. merger

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The merging of the South Orange and Maplewood fire departments took another step forward as both towns’ governing bodies passed resolutions approving a joint meeting structure, setting the table for the target completion date of Jan. 1, 2020. The South Orange Board of Trustees unanimously approved the resolution at its Oct. 14 meeting, and the Maplewood Township Committee unanimously approved the resolution at its meeting the next day. South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said at the BOT meeting that the process has not been completed, however.

“One of the items that is paramount for this to move forward is the necessary waivers for the firefighters on the Maplewood side,” she said at the meeting. “Maplewood is a non-civil service department and South Orange is a civil service department. When we had the agreement to move forward with the joint meeting with civil service, it is necessary, as advised by the state, that we move through a process that grants waivers to all the existing firefighters in the township of Maplewood.”

Firefighters in both towns will retain their rank and seniority when the merger is completed, according to Collum. She called it a “deal-breaker” if that were not the case.

“It is necessary for our two administrations to continue to work with the appropriate authorities at the state level to ensure that those waivers are in place,” Collum said. “This is another administrative step we have to take that was recommended by both attorneys in both townships.”

State aid for shared services is another component of the merger that is still pending, among other items Collum said are out of the two towns’ control.

“This is not signed, sealed and delivered,” she said at the meeting. “Jan. 1 is our target date and it remains our target date, but there are many other considerations that will impact that date outside the scope of what the municipality can control. The other thing we have no control over is the guarantee of the Civil Service Commission and that they will authorize these necessary waivers.”

Some Maplewood firefighters are also licensed EMTs, which is not the case in South Orange. The MFD wants to continue to provide EMT services, and Collum said South Orange is not interested in including them in the merger. The issue is one that still needs to be worked out, she said.

“There are critical legal issues that our attorneys are working on to make sure our joint meeting is set up in a way that is acceptable under the existing state law,” Collum said. “We like start dates, it keeps everybody fired up and working toward a common goal, but there are other mitigating circumstances outside of our own control that we have to wait for approval on.”

Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca said in an Oct. 29 phone interview with the News-Record that there was no discussion of the resolution by community members at the Oct. 15 Township Committee meeting.

“This moves us in the direction of consolidation,” he said. “This is a huge undertaking, there’s a lot of moving parts. So this allows us to move forward.”

DeLuca, like Collum, said the target date for consolidation is Jan. 1.

“We’ll make an assessment as things go on if that’s still happening, but right now that’s the target date,” he said.