I would like to take this opportunity to make a few comments about your article pertaining to the Hamilton fire service project.
We in the fire service welcome public interest in the Hamilton fire service issue, however we are very concerned that some information being quoted is not correct. We also respectfully request that whenever you are preparing a Hamilton fire service article that you contact someone from the fire service for their comments. Your article has only two quoted persons: council president Jeff Martin and township business administrator Dave Kenny. No fire service personnel at all.
Martin is accurate in saying that there will not be a need for Fire Commissioners’ salaries once the fire districts are dissolved, so that budget column will be $0.
However, Kenny is inaccurate in saying the overall fire districts’ budgets increased by 14 percent; the actual increase was 12.7 percent from 2016 to 2018. That was a one-time increase because two fire districts increased their full-time staff due to the lack of volunteer personnel. A fire district is a government agency responsible to provide fire protection services to their residents. If the volunteer personnel (free labor) are no longer available, then the district must hire full-time staff to insure the proper numbers of firefighters are available 24/7.
Kenny also commented that the total township budget in 2018 was $68 million. However, the 2018 budget on the Hamilton Township website indicates the total budget was $104 million. He also says “I would hope that we can cap the fire budget in the $22-23 million a year range” but has yet to show any plan to accomplish that, except when he states, “in addition to savings potentially achieved by lowering the fire budget and number of firefighters.”
Donald Huber, the author of the state Department of Community Affairs’ Hamilton Fire Study, provided detailed information at the Oct. 16, 2018 Hamilton Township Council meeting. Huber indicated that he used 107 as the number of firefighters, but two fire inspectors and two fire service mechanics, who were part of the fire districts at the time of the study, should have been included, too. Huber also stated that these staffing numbers were not intended to specify, limit, or to set a maximum number of personnel. It was merely a statement of the actual staffing at that time.
The study went on to show we need 10 firefighting crews, of four personnel per crew, using career and volunteer firefighters, to protect the township. We are currently using eight crews. Kenny continues to quote the incorrect number of firefighters and indicates that he wants to return to those very low numbers, disregarding the need for those additional crews.
Kenny also makes comments about the fire department schedule. He is correct that our personnel work a 24-hour shift, then receive 3 days off; that is about 91 days per year. This is a common fire department schedule. Those 91 days, which are 24-hour shifts, are equal to three normal 8-hour shifts each, or 273 work days per year. People that work Monday-Friday, five days per week, work about 260 days per year. Our staff are also on-duty every holiday. A standard work week in the U.S. is 40 hours per week. Our “24/72” schedule is a 42-hour work week. This schedule is the closest to a normal 40-hour work week that still provides equal fire protection levels 365 day each year.
Kenny continues to miscalculate when he discusses the total number of calls each district responses to. Kenny uses 6,000 calls per year divided by 365 days (16.43), then divides by eight fire districts, to state that we only respond to two calls per day per station.
Actually, during 2017, there were 6,596 incidents within Hamilton Township. The total responses for all of the fire stations was 9,194. During 2018, there were 7,172 incidents within Hamilton Township. The total responses for all of the fire stations was 10,170. This is because many incidents require more than one station to respond. In many cases, six to eight Hamilton fire stations are involved in one incident, not just one station per incident as Kenny has reported. This is also shows an increase of 576 “calls for service” in one year; that is an 8.7 percent increase of services to the public.
Kenny also suggests to send a police officer to an incident, and if he needs assistance, then dispatch the fire department. We work very well with the Hamilton Police on a daily basis. However, they have their own responsibilities to the community, and I am sure they are very busy responding to police emergencies. They may not be trained and equipped for fire or medical emergencies. With this mindset, would it be acceptable to send a public works employee to a reported shooting or robbery to check it out first and if he or she needs assistance, then dispatch a police officer?
Sending a police officer first wastes precious time. Fire heat energy increases five to 10 times per minute. Therefore, a 5-minute delay may cause a small trash can fire to become an entire kitchen and family room fire. To suggest reducing services to Hamilton residents by not sending a fire apparatus with four qualified firefighter/EMTs to any emergency until a police officer checks it out first is a disservice to the community.
The fire service, and all first responders, are a “reactionary force.” Emergencies happen every day, anytime of day. We do not respond to calls all day long, every day, for 24 hours straight. However, we must be on-duty, ready, willing and capable to respond immediately every day.
To do so, we must have adequate personnel, stations, apparatus, tools, equipment, training, and we must be timely. Kenny mentioned the “physical consolidation of firehouses.” There are some stations with overlapping areas, however Kenny was on the Response Committee that used a 4, 5, and 6 minute response map to study responses within Hamilton. (The National Fire Protection Association uses the 4-minute response model; Insurance Services Organization uses 5-minute response criteria; however, the 6-minute response map does not comply with any known fire response standard.) The committee reported that there are many areas, including Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and the southeast section of Hamilton where no fire apparatus could arrive within 6 minutes, and definitely not in 4 or 5 minutes. This report and maps are available on the Hamilton website (hamiltonnj.com/fire). If stations are closed or consolidated, then new stations are also required in areas of long response times, and those personnel from the consolidated stations should be moved to the new stations.
In closing, I believe that the press is here to provide valid useful information to our citizens about important topics. Providing proper emergency services to the community is an extremely important subject. I respectfully request that if you write any more articles about the Hamilton fire services, to please contact a fire service member, union representative, and/or fire chief for accurate statistics and our view of the subject matter.
— Mark Antozzeski
Chief, Hamilton Township Fire District No. 9