South Orange and Maplewood’s fire departments set to merge on July 1

The Maplewood Township Committee unanimously passes a resolution to move forward with the fire department merger at its meeting on April 5; the South Orange Board of Trustees passed a similar resolution on March 28.

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The first joint meeting of South Orange and Maplewood’s joint fire department was held in Maplewood on April 8; the committee approved contracts and discussed the organization of the forthcoming South Essex Fire Department. Both the South Orange Board of Trustees and the Maplewood Township Committee passed resolutions authorizing both towns to form a regional fire service.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, Maplewood Committeeman Frank McGehee and former Maplewood Committeeman Greg Lembrich will serve on the joint meeting committee. South Orange Trustee Bobby Brown and Maplewood Deputy Mayor Vic DeLuca will be alternates. South Orange Village administrator Adam Loehner is the chief executive officer. The merger will occur on July 1.

Jordan Glatt, one of the state’s shared services czars, along with Nicolas Platt, was at the March 28 South Orange BOT meeting where the trustees unanimously approved the resolution. He commended both towns for their work on creating a joint fire department.

“This took a lot of time, effort and most of all courage,” Glatt said on March 28. “You were unrelenting and you stuck with it, and, I really think for both communities, you’re going to have a better fire service for it.”

The merging of the departments has taken years; the initial report exploring the possibility of creating one department was written by the consulting firm Manitou Inc. in October 2017. It has been updated since, and both towns decided to move forward in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the final merger further. Members of the local and state firefighter unions have opposed the merging of the South Orange and Maplewood fire departments, saying the staffing levels will be too low; according to plans released by the towns, that will not be the case, as no firefighters will be laid off as a result.

“It is going to be composed of 72 firefighters, which is a reduction from 76,” Collum said at the BOT meeting, explaining that the reduction will come from the elimination of a chief and four deputy chiefs through attrition. “Every single member of both the Maplewood Fire Department and the South Orange Fire Department will be rehired within the South Essex Fire Department with their existing rank, their permanent status and their seniority.”

DeLuca spoke during the public comment portion of the BOT meeting, sharing a feasibility study from 1992 that said it made sense to merge the fire departments.

“The conclusion now is that it still makes sense,” he said. “We’re doing this to provide the highest quality fire service to the residents of each town and to maintain an appropriate level of personnel and equipment to respond to fires, emergencies and hazardous incidents. Lastly, we’re doing this to achieve economic and operational efficiency.”

The Maplewood Township Committee joined South Orange in passing a resolution to move forward with the merger at its meeting on April 5. Both resolutions passed unanimously; the Maplewood committee members did not discuss the resolution.

At the April 8 joint meeting, Collum said to complete the merger both towns will pass resolutions before July 1 that will dissolve the current fire departments. All personnel will be laid off and immediately hired by the South Essex Fire Department.