WEST ORANGE, NJ - An impassionate crowd attended Tuesday’s West Orange Township Council meeting to express their opinions on a resolution regarding the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organization that was up for a vote.
At the meeting, the council passed a resolution to remove the EMS group from performing duties under the First Aid Squad and for them to instead fall under the auspices of the West Orange Fire Department (WOFS) in a 2-1 vote, with Councilman Joe Krakoviak voting no and Councilwoman Patty Spango removing herself from the process because of her son’s involvement with the West Orange First Aid Squad. Councilman Victor Cirilo was absent from the meeting.
Members of the WOFAS, who said they have provided services to the township for decades, were not pleased with the decision and vouched for their contributions till the very end.
“We’re done fighting,” said James Troisi, president of the First Aid Squad. “We’ve been here for fifty-one years. People know who we are, people know what we do. The residents of the township certainly appreciate us.”
The resolution stems from a situation that began approximately two years ago when the council learned that the WOFAS was billing for services without the authorization of the council. The council was advised by the Office of the Attorney General that the billing process should legally go out for local contract public bid. However, the WOFAS was advised by legal counsel to refrain from submitting a bid.
In a previous article that ran in TAP, Councilwoman Susan McCartney said, "This is not a matter of using one instead of the other; it is a matter of who is able to respond first to an emergency."
The West Orange Fire Department was taking many of the calls because WOFAS was not able to provide coverage at times as a volunteer organization. To be able to increase coverage, WOFAS needed to hire a staff, and to do so, it needed to start billing for services.
In the previous TAP article, Guarino said, "WOFAS is not a totally volunteer squad. They have to have paid coverage. However, they have chosen not to participate in the RFP [Request for Proposal] as requested."
In the same previous article, Councilman Victor Cirilo summed up his thoughts by saying, "The local public contracts law provides the guidelines for public contracting. I hope that WOFAS thoroughly participates in this process in order to safeguard this institutional service. The importance of the squad to our community cannot be understated.”
Before the resolution was passed on Tuesday night, Troisi said he wanted to know what the “grand plan” would be for the volunteers who serve the community if and when it was passed.
“We want to know, for the record, where do we go from here,” he asked?
Other residents expressed their dissatisfaction toward what they said felt like the end of an era.
“It appears as if the township would only allow the West Orange Fire Department to provide EMS service,” said one woman. “Residents think that’s a huge mistake.”
One member of the FAS went as far as to say it felt like their “throats were being cut.”
McCartney highlighted that the intent of the council wasn’t to shut down the FAS, but rather to ensure the township was operating lawfully.
“The fact is, the First Aid Squad was billing,” she said. “And to bill you need to bid,” which is something the FAS was unwilling to do according to the council and WAFS president. “We’re not trying to close down the FAS. What we’re saying is you’re not supposed to be billing, and that is what we are trying to cease.”
“We are not telling volunteers they can’t be there anymore,” said Mayor Robert Parisi, who acknowledged that coming to this decision took many months of debate and was difficult. “We encourage that. They just now would work under the direction of the Fire Department and not the First Aid Squad.”
“I don’t want to be cold or callous, but I want to be perfectly clear to all residents,” Parisi said. “If volunteer members respond to a call, they are billing.” Parisi said the WOAFS does not have a right to do that under law, and so “we’re going to put a stop to it.”
The council said it feels that with the volunteers working under the Fire Department (FD) they could now focus on volunteering and will no longer feel the need to bill.
“Your services are still very valuable, and I’m sure the FD would make you feel very welcome,” said Council President Jerry Guarino.
Though some members of the crowd shook their heads in disappointment and laughed mockingly at the idea of partnering with the FD, before the resolution was passed, Guarino told residents that “whatever happens, don’t walk of this room and turn your back on your community. What we’re asking is for you to work with our Fire Department.”
In other news, the Downtown Alliance Street Fair, which happened on Saturday was discussed.
“There were a lot more people than last year,” Guarino said.
He then thanked the Downtown Alliance and West Orange Chamber of Commerce for their hard work.
“Vendors were happy with the public’s interests and the sales,” he said. “It was a very productive day overall.”
In addition, McCartney spoke about a social networking event scheduled for July 15, at 5:30 pm, at the Essex House, where residents will be able to introduce themselves, their businesses, and any projects they are working on.
Also discussed was letter to Parisi received from a fourth grader who was seeking to have a day dedicated to Tourette Syndrome (TS).
“I have TS,” he wrote. “Sometimes it makes me flinch or make noises.”
He shared that TS awareness means people will learn about it and help kids who might also have TS.
Parisi said he was moved by the letter and announced that June 4 would officially be Tourette Syndrome Awareness Day, citing that being knowledgeable about TS would lead to compassion and understanding.
The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Residents are welcome to attend.