MAPLEWOOD AND SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - An outside consultant hired to study consolidation of the Maplewood and South Orange fire departments is recommending that a merger be done, according to its report released today.

Manitou, Inc. of Peekskill, N.Y., hired in July 2016 by both towns to review a merger possibility, stated in its report that: “Our findings are clear – the communities of Maplewood and South Orange would be better served by combining their fire departments into a single entity.”

But how that merger is conducted, and how much it would save, depends on which of several options put forth by the company is implemented.

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In its 161-page report, the consultants noted that all three fire stations – two in Maplewood and one in South Orange – would remain operational, but staffing could be reduced to save funds.

“There is redundancy in coverage within the current deployment,” the report stated. “Options to reduce apparatus, stations, and staffing have been evaluated to create an efficient and comparable joint effort in the suppression of the fire threat that currently exists in the town and within the near future development.”  

The first option proposed by the study has the elimination of one of the two fire chiefs for a savings of $196,899 in salary and benefits. That would keep the current 14-person staffing plan per shift across both departments.

The second option reduces each shift’s staffing to 13 people, or a cutback of four overall positions, for a savings of $582,659 annually.

The third option cuts staffing to 12 per shift for a savings of $1.6 million annually and a reduction of eight firefighter positions.

It is unclear if the position cuts would mean layoffs or reductions via attrition or simply re-assignments.

All savings would be split between the two towns, but the specifics could be revised in a number of ways.

The report went on to add:

The most ambitious means for collaboration between the two departments would be to fully consolidate into a single department. The process and options for consolidating entities from multiple municipalities is complex. While different cultures and differences in operations will pose challenges, with the continued spirit of goodwill between elected officials in the communities and careful and sustained attention to management, a consolidation is possible and can result in enhanced effectiveness and some significant cost savings. 

We must restate that both departments are small, and they staff with prevailing industry practice for the region. This means that neither department has sufficient staffing to meet widely accepted minimum staffing for structural fire response. The next sections discuss current conditions and consolidation scenarios, along with legal issues. 

Both townships enjoy the benefits of well located fire stations, given the community risk and incident demand profiles. Coverage by travel time and ISO recommended distances provide a high level of protection. Neither department is in need of additional resources in stations or apparatus.   

Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca stated via email that he agreed with the recommendation to consolidate the two departments. "Most importantly it will bring more firefighters and apparatus to a fire quicker and with better coordination. There also could be a significant savings for both towns. I think this makes sense as a shared service," stated DeLuca

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum posted on her Facebook page, that "[f]or now, I'm going to refrain from any specific comments until everyone has had a chance to review the report and we have a conversation about the key takeaways. The consultant's recommendation is simply a report and nothing will move forward unless both governing bodies can meet their desired outcomes through good faith negotiations which I am very confident exists in terms of political will. Our working group will continue meeting as we move through this process and I ask for your patience and to not jump to any conclusions. At this point in time, it would be premature. 

Manitou Inc. was hired at a cost of $47,513, split between South Orange and Maplewood.

The full report can be viewed here.