SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Village President Sheena Collum wants the South Orange and Maplewood Fire Departments to merge together by Jan. 1.

Local leaders in both towns are ironing out details about the consolidation, which if approved, would create one fire department for both municipalities with shared fire services.

Members of the firefighters’ unions in both towns fear a merger could slash jobs, negatively impact civil service, and provide inadequate service to residents.

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Collum gave a brief update about the controversial merger during Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Collum said local officials are determining whether a lead agency or a joint meeting should lead the consolidated department. A joint meeting is a separate body that would oversee the combined fire department.

Collum said it “takes some compromises to get this done by Jan. 1.” She is working with Maplewood Mayor Vic De Luca on a preliminary and tentative budget for the expenses the towns would occur during the expected transition period.

Fire chiefs from South Orange and Maplewood are looking at what best practices for standard operating procedures would be, she said.

“It is in our best interest to move forward in that direction,” Collum said. “If South Orange and Maplewood are successful with the consolidation, the dominoes will fall, and others will follow our lead.”

De Luca said during a recent Maplewood Township Committee meeting that South Orange firefighters would remain under civil service coverage. There would be 70 firefighters under the consolidation plan, which would include one fire chief, four deputy chiefs, and an executive officer. All three firehouses including two in Maplewood and one in South Orange will continue to operate.

Maplewood would handle the administrative and financial duties under a merger, he said, and South Orange would handle personnel and human resources.

The Maplewood Township Committee plans to include a resolution on the agenda for the Aug. 6 meeting, showing support for a joint meeting.

If approved, a joint meeting could be set up in October or November.