PLAINFIELD, NJ — Plainfield Fire Director Kenneth Childress provided an overview of the fire department and its goals at Wednesday’s 2021 calendar year budget deliberation, addressing council members. There are three divisions within the department, he noted, that fall under his purview: Fire Suppression, Fire Prevention, and OEM, or Office of Emergency Management.
According to Childress, the department is comprised 105 men and women “who tirelessly protect our city. And any and all accomplishments of the fire department are due to their hard work and their dedication. I’m only the director of the symphony.” There is an overall budget of $10,874,917, he said.
"The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not only caused a health crisis, but it's also caused a financial crisis. As such, we worked and succeeded in providing our services without an increase to the budget."
Director Childress said overtime has been trending downward, while still providing the same level of service. “We have been slowly gaining momentum towards our optimum staffing, which is 109.” There are currently six cadets in the academy, but the department is still short four. He said the balancing act between hiring and retirements is challenging.
The Office of Emergency Management line item is up due to the pandemic. “The role of emergency management within the city is to prepare and mitigate, respond and recover, from all city-wide disasters, whether natural or man-made,” Childress said. He said in order to meet the desire and required demands of residents, this division's line item has increased, yet is still within the overall budget.
Councilman Sean McKenna asked the director about the expected number of retirements, who responded there are two officers at the top who are eligible but have not submitted any paperwork.
The subject of overtime was broached. In 2019, the department asked for $540K, and in 2020 the ask was $626K. But Director Childress noted this is not a true representation for 2020 as there were three months last year when no one could take vacation due to COVID-19. For 2021, the number is up around $690K.
Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome asked about the $75K retirement pay. “That is there for if people have vacation or sick time that they get compensated for, but they have it left on the books,” Childress said. He noted it has been transferred to the general fund.
Councilwoman Ashley Davis commended the department for creating fillable forms on the website to create contactless opportunities.
On OEM, the councilwoman asked,“Can you discuss some of the accomplishments that you all were able to have during this global pandemic?”
The director said OEM kept the Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) going, even adding one member. He said the membership drive is ongoing, and the teen CERT program is still in place. He added a number of the CERT team members have underlying conditions, so there are only so many conditions in which they can be placed.
Additional goals included procuring and handing out masks to the public, and providing support to the Plainfield Rescue Squad.
To see more from the budget deliberations, watch the video below:
The next budget deliberation is scheduled for Wednesday, April 28 at 7 p.m. On the agenda? Finance, Economic Development, and IT and Communications. Information to join the meeting is found on our event calendar here.
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