FAIR LAWN, NJ – The Borough Council introduced an ordinance to pay its volunteer emergency service workers a stipend to prevent a possible shortage of manpower in the future.
“The different emergency services volunteers came to us with a possible issue in the future when older volunteers begin to age out,” Mayor Kurt Peluso said the day after the council meeting on July 18. “In talking to them, we realized the time commitment to become a volunteer compared to years ago has increased quite a bit.”
The stipend, paid quarterly in $500 increments, would total $2,000 annually if a fireman attends 35 percent or more of the calls or drills. For 25 to 34 percent attendance, a person would earn half that, $250 per quarter or $1,000 annually.
Under a different schedule, Ambulance Corps members would receive quarterly payments ranging from $100 to $500 in a five-step guide, depending on the hours of service and percentage of calls they attend. The lowest amount would be 20 service hours, attending 20 percent of those in a quarter, which would equal a $100 stipend. Attending 100 percent of 100-plus hours would earn a $500 quarterly stipend.
There is a separate schedule for Rescue Squad members.
The payments do not make the volunteers employees of the borough, as stated in the ordinance, and do not affect the LOSAP payments. LOSAP, passed into state law in 1998, is the Emergency Services Volunteer Length of Service Award Program, established to provide tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteer members of an emergency service organization, according to the NJ Department of Community Affairs Division of Local Government Services.
Peluso said it currently takes six months of training at the Bergen County Fire Academy in Mahwah to become a volunteer fireman. Before the requirement increased, it was three months, and prior to that, it was one month, he said.
“That’s six months of three hours per night, twice a week,” Peluso said. “That’s asking an awful lot of time from younger parents who have work and family responsibilities from 7:30 to 10:30 at night.”
Various emergency services squads in municipalities around New Jersey have gone to full-time paid employees for ambulance and fire. Paramus has a professional EMS service and Ridgewood has a full-time fire department, Peluso said.
The public hearing for the ordinance is scheduled for 8 p.m. Aug. 14 at the municipal building.