What Does the Future Hold?
Much of the discussion over the last several meetings of this Association has been about recruitment and retention of volunteers, and especially the availability of volunteer firefighters during weekday work hours. This is not a new issue, and certainly is not confined to Bergen County. And this not only a volunteer issue, as career departments need volunteer coverage to back-fill their firehouses or get to the scene in a timely manner when required. But while firehouse conversations and fire service trade journal articles may have been about this topic, it seems that more and more news broadcasts and newspaper articles are picking up on this issue. This problem will become more public, because it is a problem for the public. And public problems canbecome political issues. If we don’t look for solutions to this problem ourselves, elected officials will.
So, what does that mean to our Association? First, we need to see how much of a problem we have in the County. In the immediate future your department will be receiving an email survey asking about your response coverage limitations. I ask that you fill it out promptly and please be honest. It is hoped that the information that is gathered can be used to flesh out a realistic picture of the fire service response across the County, so if we take it to the politicians (or they come to us) accurate answers can be provided. This whitepaper will take time to put together and I’m sure will be debated at our future meetings. But we need to take these steps now and come up with an answer as to what our realistic expectations of service to the residents of Bergen County really is.
What does the future hold? We don’t know yet, but the lack of available volunteers, coupled withminimum staffing in career departments is a real problem that is already here. It has been discussed at our meetings that as a group we should be finding out more about what Hunterdon County has done to provide coverage. This may be one tool in the toolbox that may also need to include conversations on mergers, regionalization, and combination departments. This is about providing the best possible service to the public, now and in the future, and a change in the way we have been operating may be needed.
Let us have a hand in shaping the future by filling out the surveys and coming up with answers before questionsabout our department’s ability to respond get asked by the public and our elected officials.
If you would like to comment, you are invited to the next meeting of the Association which is scheduled for September. We are trying to grow this organization and need membership just like your department does. We are always looking for more current chief officers and line officers to take part in our group. Members who are current in their dues payment will be given an opportunity to be heard.
Before closing, I would be remiss if I did not thank several people who have served this group over the last several years but have now decided to move on. A big tip-of-the-helmet to our former trustees Jack Murphy, Tom Cusker, Al Musicant, and Neal Carroll (also a former secretary), who now fill the trustee emeritus role, and Jaymee Hodges who ran a tight financial ship as our treasurer for the last several years.
To Peter Hodge, who guided this organization as president for last ten years, I thank you for your service to this Association, your personal friendship, and your non-wavering support of the mission of Bergen County Fire Chiefs Association.
And I would like to welcome Chris Ulshoefer and Mike Morrison to their new trustee roles, as well as welcome Jordan Zaretsky (Vice President), Alan Silverman (Treasurer), and Peter DeVries (Secretary), to the Association’s Board of Officers. Thank you for stepping up to help our organization as we, together, move intothe future.