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West Orange Fire Department Receives $1.7M Grant

The federal funding will allow the WOFD to hire an estimated 10 firefighters in the coming months.


The West Orange Fire Department will be bolstering its ranks in the coming months with the help of a $1.7 million federal grant awarded this week.  

New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced Wednesday that the WOFD is one of two fire departments receiving federal funding to hire firefighters through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. 

“I’m extremely excited to receive a grant of this nature,” said WOFD Chief Peter Smeraldo on Thursday. “It reflects the hard work of the members of the department ... and the job they do.”

The funding awaits approval by the township council at its next meeting on Sept. 11. After that, Smeraldo said the money will immediately be used to hire an estimated 10 firefighters.  

The grant, said Smeraldo, “recognizes that we need some assistance, and they understand that we have budgetary challenges -- just like a lot of other places.

Since hitting a 20-year high of 93 firefighters in 2006, the department is now staffed at 78 firefighters, according to township documents. The fire department renegotiated its contract , so most losses were primarily due to attrition, said Smeraldo. 

However, the firefighters will not start right away. The new hires will need to complete training at the Essex County Fire Academy in Cedar Grove. The training will take about four months. 

The new firefighters are expected to be sworn in soon after the new year. 

The only other agency to receive funding from the same grant was Hoboken Fire Department. It was awarded $1.1 million. 

Gary Englert August 25, 2012 at 01:56 AM
It so does my heart good to see you amused, Jake. And, rather than "boast(ing) ad nauseum about the West Orange Memorial Day Ceremony," what we do is to publicize the initiative in order to continue to identify and honor the Township's combat veterans and provide positive public relations for the Township. I will not, nor need not, apologize for the fact that the annual ceremony remains the most consistently media covered event in the Township's history.
john anthony prignano August 25, 2012 at 02:00 AM
wohopeful 15 years ago, I stated that West Orange should transition to a combination paid - volunteer fire department. .At that time there was a small but dedicated auxilary fire department .The auxilary department was going to be my starting point .During the Mckeon Administration,there was an auxilary police force. If it dwindled down or even disappeared, that's understandable.Volunteers are getting harder to find.That's why I've said we should ,in fact we might have to, offer compensation .Some years ago,a referendum passed granting the West Orange First Aid Squad compensation .I would be willing to submit the question of compensation for part- time firemen to the voters for approval.How about offering high school seniors tuiton money ? How about offering a family person a good family dental plan so he or she doesn't have to take out a second mortgage to pay for braces and root canals. Question; Are volunteers from Millburn and Livngston banned from working as volunteer/paid firemen in West Orange ? I never read or heard that they were.AGAIN, as Ralph and wohopeful have said, it's worth exploring...UNLESS you're a professional defeatist and defender of the staus quo. Hey, by the way ,do we still have a Public Information Director,and do we still have in effect the Inter - Local Agreement that denies the voters their right to Initiative and Referendum on school construction projects ? Always remember the golden rule of WO politics ; Give your friends money ! .
Ralph August 25, 2012 at 03:34 AM
John- I think we're all aware of how difficult it's going to be for towns to pay for local government/schools. There is no way things can keep going at this pace, especially in West Orange. What other town do you know of where a $350,000 home has a tax bill of over 12K per year?? We need to explore different options. In most cases these options won't work, but that does not mean we shouldn't look into it. Small changes can make a big difference in the short and long term. You make a good point, is there a way to Incentivize volunteers for their time while also saving the town money and not adding to our pension obligations? How about health insurance? I guess the only way to find out is to find 50 people willing to volunteer and offer them Insurance......As you know, according to the all knowing one, that is the only way to explore an option.
Gary Englert August 25, 2012 at 03:39 AM
john anthony prignano: Recalling your halycon days of 15 years ago, and what you did or didn't say in the prelude to an election that ended so dismally for you, is really rather pointless. Far more relevant is what you've done to change the paradigm since? If a volunteer fire company is something you truly believe in, why haven't you taken this ball you feel so very strongly about and run with it? The first basic step would be to precisely what one would do if the wanted to start a men's softball league (or anything similar) and that would be to assess community interest in the endeavor Without even knowing if there are willing volunteers, you've already jumped to suggesting we "may" have to provide some compensation/inducement to enlist members...which surely is putting the cart before the horse. You would do well to familiarize yourself with the training requirements and cost of state certification as Firefighters I, II & III, as well as an EMT-B, so that your volunteers can be all they can and should be. That alone should make you rethink whether or not high school student are really suitable recruits. So, go ahead and give it your best shot; stop talking about it and actually do something. Maybe Ralph will be willing to sign on and help. By the way, the Township has had, and does have, an Auxiliary Police Force...albeit small in number, as volunteers ARE hard to come by.
Gary Englert August 25, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Ralph: It isn't about my knowing all, it's about you guys knowing nothing...lacking any historical perspective whatsoever...while wanting somebody else to do for you since, after all, you're a taxpayer. If you think you've got a good idea, there's nothing preventing you from fleshing it out and presenting a proposal to the Administration and Council. Please...by all means...prove that I don't know what I'm talking about and give it a shot. If it works, I'll be the first one to congratulate you and give you a pat on the back.
Brett Kaiser August 25, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Can't we just be thankful for the money and STOP Using the town Budget as the reason for high taxes? Hell, I'd like us to give MORE Money to the Town for MORE OUSTANDING Services..the problem is NOT in That Budget..Hell..if we are going to ingnore facts..let's get crazy and double the Works, Fire and Police.
john anthony prignano August 26, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Is the town budget part of our property tax bill or not ? Generally,I believe in the expression Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. But why should taxpayers be thankful for getting back a tiny fraction of their own money? Benevolent despotism is not my favorite form of governance.On election day 1994, I came upon a West Orange fireman who was talking with a woman.I'm sure he had been talking to her about the myriad virtues of a local candidate. I heard her say to him, " You're right, you're riight,it's the County that's the problem " Mission accomplished. This fireman retired after 25 years with a pension of close to 90k with lifetime benefits. If memory serves me, he also owned a retail store for many years in West Orange. There's nothing like competing against your own tax dollars and employees.He now lives out of State.Its not the County that's THE problem .The County is a PART of THE problem.The town budget is NOT the reason for high taxes .The town budget is PART of the reason for high taxes , i.e., it's part of our tax bill. MORE OUTSTANDING Services....6 or 7 street cleanings a year, streets in horrible condition , and trees in desperate need of trimming. It's those damn County taxes, or perhaps it's the Federal Government's wasteful spending and ineptitude that's the problem,or is it State government spending that's killing us ? Is school spending and/or local spending doing serious damage to the taxpayers bottom line ?The answer to each question is,"Yes "
Gary Englert August 26, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Ranthony: Might I suggest that you review the following document and, most specifically, page 40 therein? http://www.westorange.org/DocumentCenter/View/621 Then please tell us all how the average taxpayer is getting screwed for his $254.40 per month.
Brett Kaiser August 26, 2012 at 03:10 AM
OH, And Does Anyone KNOW How Hard, Dedicated and Honored our Fire Department is? Please do NOT Compare them to ANY Volunteer unit. They are Professionals and risk their lives. Please don't tarnish or diminish what they do for out and surrounding towns, You really should be ashamed for any ill conceived bad mouthing posted here or anywhere else. OH and as far as services go. Go compare our to other towns. And it sounds like your in my camp. Let's get MORE Services and Make this place a shining example of the BEST of what COULD Be offered. (P.S. If your tree needs pruning, call Lenny, they'll be right out)
john anthony prignano August 26, 2012 at 04:59 AM
Firefighters and police in West Orange average $100,000 in base pay.After ten years they get 2% of their base pay every two years until they have 20 years service i.e. Longevity pay equals 10 % of their base pay . The police are averaging over a year $10,000 each in overtime. They must pay 10% of their base pay into their pension fund . So their base is reduced to $90.000 . But, let's say the average length of service is 16 years.That figure represents $6,000 in longevity pay .Now, add the $10,000 to $96,000 . That's $106.000. Police officers have stressful and dangerous jobs . Some of that overtime is forced overtime .Police officers work energy sapping shift work in every conceivable kind of weather .Their average life spans are quite a bit lower than the general population The CDC estimates 40% of all police officers suffer from some form of a sleep disorder . That's what I think, but that's not what police and firemen think ; There was article that appeared in the Star Ledger about a Newark fireman {100k+} who boxed professionally for 15 years . He also drove a school bus and drove a delivery truck." The only time I could sleep was at the firehouse",he said Taking not one but two private sector jobs from the people who pay him, and then sleeping on the taxpayers dime . Star Ledger profiled a Newark fireman .He also owns a deck building company . A tow truck comes to the house... driven by a Newark fireman . Our handy man said he was doing alot of housepainting
john anthony prignano August 26, 2012 at 05:41 AM
for a company owned by an East Orange fireman.Every employee of a Jersey City NIGHT Club was a Jersey City cop.Twenty years ago, my cousin said many of the teachers in her public school were Newark detectives. Almost twenty years ago, the principal of West Side High school was a Newark cop.He needed 3 waivers from the police department to be the principal, which he got .4 Edison cops who eat in a friend's restaurant own landscaping businesses IN Edison,taking jobs from the people who pay them . The WOHS girl's soccer team coach is a WO cop.The coach of West Side High's football team is a Newark cop .Anyone for shift work ? A police officer in South Jersey was making a base pay of 160k. His wife makes 31k. He retired with a a pension of 100k. He now works at an Ace Hardware store. He needs the money I guess.Hard pressed employers often prefer to have firemen and cops as employees.Many of them want to be payed cash, and the employer doesn't have to pay benefits..A retired fireman with a pension of 100k + benefits opened up a bagel and breakfast shop.If the going gets tough, he can wait out his competition,THE PEOPLE WHO PAY HIM HIS PENSION AND BENEFITS. I think police and fire work is stressful and dangerous.Both require superior physical conditioning, extensive ongoing training,and mental toughness. I think that, but THEY DON"T. Want to "create " tens of thousands of jobs in New Jersey? Ban moonlighting ! These people are using the public's money to crush the public.
john anthony prignano August 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Brett Could you imagine how terrifying it must be for the residents of towns with all volunteer fire departments ?
carol wasser August 27, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I work in West Orange but live in a town that has a volunteer fire dept and they are GREAT. My husband is a volunteer firefighter in another town and the town next door has paid & volunteer and they had to start somewhere. If WO does not want to have volunteer firefighters then the town needs to close at least 1 or 2 of the current firehouse - we do not need 4 -it is a waste of the taxpayers money
Ralph August 27, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Brett- I don't think anyone is disputing how good our fire department is, or for that matter the services in this town. From police to garbage pick up.....It's excellent. My thought with exploring the possibility of adding a volunteer component is try and keep short term & long term costs in line so we can maintaining excellent services. We just had police layoffs and the school portion of the budget is very difficult to control because of mandates and many other requirements... Until the state figures out a different way to fund schools (wishful thinking) we need to look at all options. There isn't another town I've seen that has the property tax burden of WO (Ex. 350K home is over 12K). Middle to upper middle class families are choosing other towns.....which is a real shame given how great a town this is.
Gary Englert August 27, 2012 at 02:36 PM
carol wasser: While I commend your husband's volunteerism as a firefighter in your community, the fact that he is one does not make you an expert in emergency services or suggest you know the first thing about the volume of calls handled by the WOFD. Our fire houses were established to provide rapid response by emergency services in a community of 12 square miles and closing one or two of those houses would increase response times to some portion of it. If you're in the midst of having a heat attack, those additional minutes might just cost you your life.
john anthony prignano August 27, 2012 at 03:51 PM
carol Great comments. I deeply respect and admire what your husband is doing . You offer a very valuable.point of view.Your input is important..Great comments .
Brett Kaiser August 27, 2012 at 04:48 PM
>> john anthony prignano 53 minutes ago carol Great comments. I deeply respect and admire what your husband is doing . You offer a very valuable.point of view.Your input is important..Great comments . UNTIL Her House Burns down because they closed the Station nearest to her. Where is that exactly? AND AGAIN With the TAXES...ENOUGH Already
Sue Freivald August 27, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I find a few things interesting--first, in this comment thread Mr. Englert speaks in favor of expanding the fire department by way of this grant, but in a another article's comment thread he speaks in support of leaving positions open, saying that overtime is usually less expensive than hiring more people. So, which is it? Do we need more firefighters, or should we use overtime instead? The grant, according to Mr. McKeon, will only cover a year or so of pay for the ten new firefighters--so is it smarter to hire them and incur the ongoing costs when the grant runs out, or to simply keep on with the current overtime mechanism you are in favor of on the other comment thread? Can you explain your conflicting opinions? Also, I note that Mr. Englert wrote to someone above :"Unlike you (who moved here in 2007?) I've lived here for 51 years." Interesting, as many have inquired in various places whether or not he still lives here and the answer tends to be a non-answer--you seem to be claiming here, Mr. Englert, that you do live in WO. DO you currently live in West Orange? Do you pay WO property taxes either directly or through renting in WO? And have you received and/or do you receive income through any candidates/campaigns? As someone who feels transparency is necessary in evaluating the comments or opinions of others, surely you can see the value in giving pertinent information that would relate to helping people evaluate the bias of your own opinions....
john anthony prignano August 27, 2012 at 08:59 PM
The great political satirist Mort Sahl was once asked, why, after so many years have passed, does he still talk about the assasination of John F. Kennedy. He replied, " Because he's still dead ." Yesterday's Newark Star Ledger; The title of the article was Keeping Score on N.J. Comeback ; Here's a few statistics - N.J. unemployment rate: January 2009 - 7.4% January 2010 - 9.7% January 2011 - 9.4% January 2012 - 9.8% State debt as of June 30 ; In 2009 it was $35.51 billion State debt 2012 - $38.06 billion Real estate sales; 2009 - 115,300 2010 - 84,400 2011 - 79,400 For the first quarter of 2012 - 17,2000 { x4 } would be 68,800 home sales for all of 2012. Median home values ; 2009 - $308,700 2010 - $304,000 2011 - $291,7000 2012 - $265,000 Mortgage loans in foreclosure ; 2009 - 5.82% 2010 - 7.28 % 2011 - 8.21% 2012 8.37% . Would someone with expertise in these matters please explain to me in plain language how these numbers should be interpreted . I don't have a clue.
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Sue Freivald: There is nothing inconsistent about my positions as, first and foremost, the comments (about overtime often being preferable to adding personnel, whether they be police or fire) are still germame and WERE made before the announcement of this grant. To use the grant to hire new personnel is likely prudent as the WOFD does lose personnel each year through attrition. I'm not inclined to believe the ten new hires would increase department strength for long at all; just maintain it. I can't speak to the specific terms of the grant, what it allows for or over how long a period the funds can be accessed. My guess would be, however, that $1.7 Million would cover the salary and benefits for 10 junior firemen for at least two years. Conversely, not filling the funded vacancies (for both WOFD/WOPD) for the current budget year made all the sense in the world, given we've already done without them for 9 months and nobody could be hired and trained to come on board before December 31st. The Township will, however, more than likely need two additional truck drivers with fall leaf collection and the winter months ahead. The intense interest in my personal life never ceases to amaze me as it is invariably coming from people so very jealously guarding their own by hiding behind screen names. I quite clearly reveal more about myself than they do. The rest of your questions have been previously and repetitively asked and answered and I see no reason to do so again.
Sue Freivald August 28, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Englert says: "previously and repetitively asked and answered and I see no reason to do so again." LOL! In short, you will not state publicly if you live in WO, or are or have been paid by any campaigns. Why not? As for the rest of your answer, it basically amounts to a lot of "guessing"--guessing the BOTH leaving the WOFD and WOPD to shrink due to attrition is fine AND that adding to the WOFD is necessary, guessing the terms of the grant, guessing how long $1.7M will last, etc. In short, making whatever assumptions are necessary to be right both ways. IN all seriousness, though, is there any indication that the Town expects ten positions to be vacated due to attrition in the next year or so?
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Sue Freivald: Any uniformed employee reaching 25 years of service is eligible for retirement and those expecting to do so are required to make their intentions known, for planning purposes, prior to the next budget cycle. As clearly indicated above, Chief Smeraldo notes the department lost 15 men to attrition in the last five years. Historically, police and firemen haven't been brought on one at a time but, in goups of three or more...meaning a like sized group will retire 25 years in the future. Seeing 9 or more fireman retire over the next three years wouldn't be unusual and, yes, an exact number anticipated is surely available. I do NOT know the precise details of this grant but, if (as suggested) the funding must be devoted to hiring 10 firemen, historical knowledge, practical experience and common sense tells me the salary and benefits cost, per man, will not exceed $75,000 per year for their first two years service. Ergo, the grant should cover that expense for two years. As to the personal questions, I have addressed both publicly and privately, including with your husband. If you're still talking to him (and I can think of any number of reasons why you might not be), why not ask him? :-) I, for one, have no intention of humoring the trolls by having the discussion again with Team Krakoviak's odd wife out. If your concern is my political leanings, do know in the "us versus them" mentality fostered by your side, then I'm definitely one of "them!"
DB August 28, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Gary, You are not leaning, you are all in. This is your Linkedin profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gary-r-englert/16/b48/22b
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 07:23 PM
DB: And as I said above, "I'm definitely one of "them!" and have never made any bones about it.
Jake Freivald August 28, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I'm sure people would want to know why you maintained a legal address at 1 Colony Court, even though you hadn't lived there. If your friends allowed you to maintain an address there, they certainly didn't after they sold it -- which was before the election last November, when you voted and still claimed it as your legal residence as far as the County Clerk is concerned. Now, I haven't looked to see if you also voted from there in the most recent municipal election: Did you change your address before voting? Because you were clearly not residing in a home no longer owned by you or anyone you know. Isn't it reasonable for people to wonder just a bit where you *do* live, and whether you *are* allowed to vote in town?
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Jake Freivald: Just what other "people would want to know" about my voter registration status? If it's you and the Mrs., you got the information previously and may convey it, or not, as you see fit. This is an even more ridiculous line of questioning than those concerning Barack Obama's place of birth and neither am I as public a person has he, nor am I running for office. It's surely far more germane that someone vying for local office hadn't voted in a municipal election for 14 of the 16 years he'd lived here...the explanation being he didn't know enough to make an informed decision...then concluding that a year or two of paying some attention qualified him to govern. Go figure.
Jake Freivald August 28, 2012 at 09:08 PM
I know you want to throw mud, Gary, and you're quite good at your job: sucking all the life out of every discussion you engage in. The fact remains that you have voted using a legal address where you had never lived, and, as of last year, that had been sold by the people who ostensibly allowed you to use it. No big deal, I know. Trust you. Everything's fine.
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I'm throwing mud? Et tu Brute? Actually, what I was doing was providing salient and accurate information, germane to this discussion, when your better half chose to question not only my acumen but, my right to voice an opinion. You previously questioned my voter registration and I answered the inquiry honestly and forthrightly; yet you persist and toward what end? Reminding you of your shoddy voting record is then more than fair game, so please spare us all the righteous indignation. Assume for just a moment that I currently reside on the moon or the International space Station; would that make my long and detailed knowledge of the Township, its government and how it operates any less? Nope...and, by comparison, yours and the Mrs. couldn't fill a thimble.
Gary Englert August 28, 2012 at 11:07 PM
By the way folks, up on the right side wall of the equipment bay, down at Fire Headquarters, is a running list of all the past and present members of the WOFD. Included therein are their names, ranks, their date in service and the date they retired. Those without a retirement date are those still serving and determining when they be eligible to retire is simply a matter of adding 25 years to the month, day and year they joined the department.
Mike D'Onofrio (Editor) August 29, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Can we please keep the conversation under control. I will have to start shutting down comment boards if this persists. -- MCD


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