SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Village Trustees and the Maplewood Township Committee have both approved an automatic mutual aid agreement between the two towns fire departments. Representatives from the two departments will now meet to hammer out the details.

This means that both fire departments will begin training and going on calls together. This is a small step towards the town’s ultimate goal of merging the two fire departments into one. Talks toward any potential merger were put on hold in March so that the towns could focus on the state of emergency. While the official plans have not been restarted, Collum described the automatic aid plan as “low-hanging fruit” and a step in the right direction.

Local leaders have praised the planned merger saying it will cut costs for both towns. The three fire stations would all continue to operate and there would be a total of 70 firefighters across the two towns. The consolidation would allow for 4 deputy chiefs and one chief. Firefighters in both towns have expressed worry that the merger would cut jobs and negatively impact their ability to provide services.

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“The more that we're training together, the more that we're familiarizing ourselves with each other's structures," said Village President Sheena Collum. This is positive "regardless of whether a joint meeting moves forward or does not. This is a good practice and it's definitely a practice that I know from even our union representatives are support that,” she said.

A complete merger of the departments will be a more difficult task. Maplewood has a non-civil service department and all firefighters are also EMTs, while South Orange has a civil service fire department and a separate all-volunteer EMT rescue squad. According to the plan articulated by Maplewood Township Committee Member Vic De Luca, South Orange firefighters would remain civil service officers.

“Regardless of what the step after tonight is, it's good sound public policy for us to be doing this with the township of Maplewood,” said Collum at the last Board of Trustees meeting.

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