MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The Maplewood Township Committee is set to take action Tuesday on a proposal long supported by Mayor Vic DeLuca to merge the local fire department with the South Orange Fire Department. The meeting will take place at Maplewood’s Municipal Building, 574 Valley Street, and begin at 8:30 p.m.

According to a draft of the resolution obtained and reviewed by TAPinto SOMA the merger will come in the form of a “Joint Meeting for Fire Services.”

A Joint Meeting, under New Jersey State Law, is a “political subdivision of the State exercising public and essential governmental functions to provide for the public health and welfare.” 

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While the proposal to form a new entity is a departure from original plans that would have seen the Maplewood Fire Department consume the South Orange Fire Department, firefighters from both towns, as well as the leadership of the NJ FMBA, the union that represents them, still has concerns about one of the key details, staffing levels.

As currently written the resolution calls for no layoffs and dictates that minimum staffing levels to remain unchanged for both departments, however, Chris Ariemma, President of Maplewood FMBA Local 25 pointed out, it also dictates that the newly formed department will have “70 uniformed fire personnel with one Fire Chief.”

Currently, there are a total of 76 full time firefighters in the two departments.

“As proposed, the numbers lead both departments to go from two smaller understaffed departments, to one larger understaffed department,” Ariemma said. “As far as what the staffing numbers should be, that has yet to be discussed with the FMBA or the Chiefs. We have not yet been able to offer those numbers.”

“The towns' plan was developed with no staffing input from the FMBA or the Chiefs." 

Speaking to TAPinto SOMA Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca confirmed that in order to provide for joint government of the new fire department, as well as to make good on an agreement related to civil service protection, the two municipalities were seeking a Joint Meeting 

Asked about staffing concerns DeLuca said that it is a “negotiating point,” adding that there are currently 43 firefighters in Maplewood, with an additional six in the fire academy. “Consolidation is a more efficient use of the personnel,” he said, clarifying that the plan he supports has always called for a reduction in total force to 70 firefighters.

Offering that the number could possible change DeLuca concluded his point by saying that while there are currently 18 firefightres per shift, 10 in Maplewood and eight in South Orange, under consolidation there will be 17 per shift, which he believes is the “proper level of service.” 

As for who will hold the top position in the newly formed fire department DeLuca said only that it will be “someone from the current fire departments.”

Saying he plans to be at the meeting to support the firefighters, as well as the overall safety of the communities concerned, is Eddie Donnelly, President of the New Jersey FMBA. 

“We have certainly come a long way since our first meeting with Mayors DeLuca and Collum in March,” Donnelly said, adding that by accepting the union’s request to consider a joint meeting, thereby maintaining civil service protections to South Orange firefighters, and adding them for Maplewood firefighters, local leaders have shown a willingness to compromise. “As long as the end result is one that makes our firefighters, and the residents they protect, safer, I have no doubt we can make this happen together.”