Orange FD addressed at city’s second budget hearing

ORANGE, NJ — The Orange Fire Department took center stage on Saturday, June 16, at the second hearing by the city council on the Calendar Year 2018 proposed city budget.

The third budget hearing, scheduled for Thursday, June 21, will feature the following city departments: planning and development, community services and public works. The fourth and final budget hearing will focus on the departments of administration and water, and on the Orange Public Library, and is scheduled for Monday, June 25.

At this most recent meeting, fire Director Kenneth Douglas gave a presentation West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson described as “very professional.”

“Director Douglas and your senior staff, I really appreciate the professionalism with which y’all prepare yourselves to come before us in the city,” said Johnson on Saturday, June 16. “You do a yeoman’s job, not only of running a major department for the city, but the way you present yourself from A to Z. It’s something that I can take back to my constituents and explain to them how hard you work for the city. How clear you are on the vision on what you expect for it, although we might not be able to afford it, you let us know right now this is where you want to go.”

Johnson said he liked Douglas’ idea of Orange one day having a new facility for the OFD.

“We might as well speak it into existence, like everybody else talks about,” Johnson said. “Taking on the shouldering of the whole EMS, the vision is clear. The hard work you do with what you got is clear.”

Douglas was accompanied by Deputy Chief Al Spearman and two other ranking OFD members for the presentation, which involved listing the OFD mission statement; explaining its organizational structure; detailing its manpower and staffing issues, challenges and plans for solving them; outlining the department’s key areas of responsibility; listing its 2017 accomplishments; providing analysis of the department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; goals and objectives for 2018; a budget overview, including data on salaries and wages, overtime and operating expenses from 2016 to 2018; and making final recommendations for the council to factor into their budget deliberations.

Douglas said the OFD currently has six deputy chiefs, 20 captains and 46 firefighters, plus two clerks, a confidential secretary, an executive officer, OEM deputy coordinators and a director. He said there are four tours, or shifts, each occupying 16 to 17 personnel.

“Each tour has the ability to respond with four apparatus — one quint, one ladder truck, two engines and one commander vehicle — responding from two different stations,” said Douglas on Saturday, June 16. “The unified command consists of one deputy chief, four captains and 11 to 12 firefighters per tour. Each apparatus is commanded by one captain, with a minimum of two firefighters. The tour is commanded by one deputy chief, who is incident commander for that shift.”

Douglas also listed over-expenditures in budget line items for apparatus repair, building maintenance and overtime as threats to the OFD, along with no increase in revenue, injuries, staff reduction through attrition or citizen dissatisfaction of EMS service. Overtime came up again during his budget overview.

“Salaries and wages increased by 20 percent from year 2016 to 2017, due to the settling of FMBA and FOA contracts and retirement payouts,” Douglas said. “In addition, it is anticipated there will be an additional increase, due to 30 percent of the department eligibility to retire from 2018 to January 2020. Measures have been taken to control overtime spending but operating expenses will increase due to aging equipment and needed upgraded and repairs to both fire department structures.”

Douglas said that, thanks to the department’s new overtime policies, the OFD has been able to get its overtime issue under control.

“The OFD has strategically kept the overtime budget within the given range that was approved,” he said. “In 2017, there was a rise, due to the no closing of a firehouse or brown out. In the year 2018, the overtime budget was at its lowest in 10 years, due to the hiring of new firefighters and promotions. The three-year statistical chart shows the cost savings.”