FLEMINGTON, NJ – Council listened to the borough’s fire chief and a former fire chief about a proposal for Hunterdon County to employ paid firefighters at its meeting Monday.
A committee established by the county’s Fire Chiefs Association developed the plan, which could cost county taxpayers $1.5 million a year. The group now seeks municipal governing bodies to support the plan by approving resolutions that would be presented to the county Freeholders, who have the authority to approve it.
So far, governing bodies in High Bridge, Califon and both Lebanon Township and Lebanon Borough have approved resolutions in support of the plan, which advocates say would cost about $22 a year on a house assessed at $300,000.
Fire Chief Scott Williamson told Borough Council that the Fire Chiefs Association is receptive to suggestions about the plan and that some details – such as who will pay the cost of maintaining equipment – remain to be ironed out.
“I don’t necessarily know that handling it at the county level is the best solution,” Williamson said, adding that perhaps the need could be met with shared services agreements. But he didn’t question the need to act.
“I can’t tell you that any fire station in Hunterdon County can stand up and say, ‘We have more than enough members,’ ” Williamson said. “It’s just the reality ... It is a very real issue.”
Former Borough Fire Chief Bob Motzel, who lives in Raritan Township, was on the Fire Chiefs Association committee that wrote the plan. He told officials that there is a “significant decrease” in daytime volunteers that can respond to fire alarms.
Fewer people who live in Hunterdon also work here, Motzel said, so they’re not able to respond to daytime calls. And fewer people are able to volunteer, he said, because of “time constraints.”
Williamson said that the borough’s Fire Department responds to about 300 calls a year, both inside and outside of the borough.
Resident Al Brewer asked Williamson for information about the squad’s response time. Williamson said he didn’t have details, but could assemble them using the department’s software.
“I challenge you to produce more than a handful of incidents in Flemington Borough that our volunteer squad hasn’t been able to respond to due to lack of volunteers,” Brewer said.
Motzel said that Flemington is not meeting standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, which states that Flemington’s firefighters should be on a fire scene within 10 minutes, 80 percent of the time.
Borough Council asked questions of the Williamson and Motzel, but didn’t discuss whether they would support a paid firefighter proposal.