Berkeley Heights Officials Praise Performance of Township’s First Responders During Onslaught From Hurricane Irene

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Fire Department responded to 114 emergency calls during the two days the area was under the cloud of Hurricane Irene. This is as many calls as the department normally handles in a month, including two swiftwater rescues, township officials said Tuesday.

Officials, at Tuesday’s Township Council session, praised the response not only of firefighters, but also of rescue squad members, police, Department of Public Works employees and others employed in the Municipal Building.

Many of these workers came out on their own time and worked overnight or all weekend for the township’s residents when they could have been home helping their own families cope with flooding and power outages, according to Mayor Joseph G. Bruno.

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Office of Emergency Management Coordinator and Township Fire Chief Anthony Padovano cited the rescue squad for bringing in extra trucks and the sewer department staff members for working around-the-clock to keep the sewer facility operating in the dense rainstorm.

He added OEM personnel kept residents apprised of the status of power throughout the storm and until power was restored to Berkeley Heights this past Sunday.

Although Jersey Central Power & Light Company was “undermanned” at times to deal with the storm, Bruno said, “their trucks were where they had to be when they needed to be there.”

He agreed with Chief Padovano, however, that the township needs to look into a reverse 911 system to keep residents updated on emergency situations, and thanked the Board of Education for allowing the township to use its Honeywell system to alert residents.

He also praised the chief for remaining on duty from last Friday night until last Monday morning and for doing an excellent job as OEM manager for compensation only amounting to $330 per month.

The mayor advised residents to sign up for the Union County First Alert System at www.ucfirstalert.org to receiving traffic reports, flood alerts, other emergency information and CNN news by text message or e-mail.

In addition, Bruno noted, Congressional Representative Leonard Lance will hold open meetings with Federal Emergency Management Administration officials in his mobile office on Wednesday from 5 to 7pm in front of the Springfield Municipal Building at 100 Mountain Avenue and from 6 to 8pm in front of the Cranford Library.

The mayor also said a dumpster for collection of debris from the hurricane will remain at the Public Works Department until Friday and the township Office of Emergency Management will hold an open public meeting sometime in the near future at which resident input on the performance of the office during the hurricane will be welcome.

In a storm-related measure at Tuesday’s meeting the council authorized the waiving of all construction permit fees for items specifically related to cleanup after the hurricane.

The fee waiver will initially last until October 17, but will be extended if needed, Bruno noted.

He said the waiver would not apply to items not directly related to storm damage such as purchasing a home electrical generator. While purchase of a generator is desirable, he added, it functions more to add value to a residence rather than dealing with storm damage such as replacing sheetrock in a home.

Township Business Administrator Amey Upchurch said the township is compiling operating and capital costs to the municipality itself from the storm so that they can be submitted to FEMA for reimbursement.

The council also approved a resolution authorizing the submission of an $11,453 grant application by the Berkeley Heights Municipal Alliance to the state through the county for calendar year 2012.

Resident Thomas Foregger said the council should look into the grant, and called many of the activities it funds “a waste of money.”

Barbara Russo, administrative assistant to the business administrator, said the grant funds such programs as drug and alcohol prevention education and leadership training at the high school, the DARE program and Project Graduation.

In other actions, the council awarded $40,896 and $45,186 contracts to Beyer Brothers Corp. of Fairview for two pickup trucks.

Councilmember Edward Delia, who voted against both contracts, said the township is purchasing more trucks than originally announced earlier this year.

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