Bloomfield Fire Chief: “It’s Only Going to Get Worse”

bloomfield fire.jpgIt’s one thing when budget cuts threaten fireworks. Another thing when they threaten firefighting. But staffing shortages and a cap on overtime hours have already led to one of Bloomfield’s firehouses being closed for almost three days recently.
Fire House 2, located at 90 Watsessing Ave., was closed for 24 hours on Thursday, June 17, and for half days the following Saturday and Monday, Bloomfield Fire Chief Joseph McCarthy told Baristanet.
“Right now we are severely understaffed, as a result we had a significant spike in our overtime,” McCarthy said.


As a result of a discussion with town administrators, McCarthy decided to only use two firefighters on overtime.
Station 2 was closed because it did not have the minimum of 16 firefighters per shift. If a fire had occurred during the closing, there would have been at least a two-minute delay in response time, McCarthy said. “The farthest distance would be down on First Avenue and 15th Street. That’s a couple of extra miles and a significant amount of time.”
“With vacations, sick leave, and retirements, we need more than two people to keep all the stations open,” McCarthy said. “Unfortunately, that week, Station 2 was the station.”
Bloomfield Fire Department is approved to have 89 firefighters on staff, but only has 80 right now due to retirements. A new firefighter hasn’t been hired since 2008, McCarthy explained. “The town has had a hiring freeze in all the town departments. Everyone is in the same boat with being short staffed.”
There are also two additional firefighters retiring in August. “So as bad as it seems right now, it’s only going to get worse,” the fire chief predicted. “If there’s no hiring, which there won’t be, more closures are expected.”
Photo of a three-alarm fire in Bloomfield in March 2007 by Ron Johnson – www.photozonfire.com

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13 COMMENTS

  1. “Right now we are severely understaffed, as a result we had a significant spike in our overtime,”
    He should be fired. He’s not a politician and should not be making public statements like this unless in the form of a report or testimony before the local government.

  2. We can no longer afford the luxury of professional firefighters. The dept should be disbanded and replaced by an all-volunteer corps.

  3. Yeah, but if he doesn’t let us know, who will? The mayor and council aren’t going to volunteer this information.
    It’s crazy that we’re allowed to be so understaffed…I’d give up a lot of other services (twice a week garbage pickup, anyone?) so our whole town can be fully protected by firefighters.

  4. One of the ploys those opposed to budget cuts always pull is the old “Without us (which really means without everything we’ve asked for and not a cent less), things are only going to get worse…” This is but a scare tactic, since the general truth is that we’ll never know if we can get along fine with less until we try it.
    So it is especially dismaying to hear Bloomfield’s fire Chief saying this sort of thing.
    I’m sure you were kidding in the main about an all-vol force, walleroo, but the truth about even towns which do have that kind of firefighting force are hard-pressed these days to maintain such a force. The days when most vols (and local ambulance squads, too) lived and worked in their towns, so they could easily get to fires as necessary, are long gone.
    On the other hand, Montclair has a mayor who seems relatively unemployed for other than th surely brief time he spends on budgeting issues, and with his pedalling abilities he could doubtless get to many area fires much quicker than even people using their cars… And haven’t you too intimated that you often work from home, walleroo, could thus be available for fire-fighting duties as needed?

  5. He’s right. Things will get worse and not just for firefighters. Every public employee will have to accept lower wages, pensions and bennies. Not because taxpayers don’t like them, there’s just no money left in the kiddie. The outrage is just beginning. Wait til the feds are forced to takeover public pensions at 75% or less of what was promised. NJ is forecasting another huge deficit for 2011.

  6. The furthest distance would be 1st Ave. & N. 13th St. and then some. One side of N. 13th is in Blfd. there, going towards 2nd Ave.

  7. ROC-These statements were made to the town council just last night, and with more detail.
    Wall-have you ever lived in an all-volunteer town? I highly doubt it. Response time in Bloomfield from receiving the alarm to being on scene can be as little as two minutes and rarely goes over four. The national average is six. In an all-volunteer town, you may not get any firefighters, a few or a lot. It’s a crapshoot. That doesn’t even deal with the response time which jumps from a six minute average to ten. Fires double in size every thirty seconds and the first five minutes will decide how the incident will progress. All this and your home-owner’s insurance will go up.
    The chief was being honest. His job is to protect the community and he has been doing so for decades. He is (was) a member of a volunteer department. He sees it both ways. If he isn’t honest and something tragic occurs, I promise you he will be taken to task and have to account for whatever happens at the incident.
    In firefighting there is an old saying, “Only a fool wants to be an officer, and a chief is the biggest fool of all.” This statement is true because the chief takes all the responsibility and rarely gets the credit.

  8. Montclair, Glen Ridge (via Montclair) and Bloomfield have all paid departments. No one would suggest that is a bad thing. (Other than me since I actually would have liked to have transferred when I moved to Montclair, having been a volunteer for 12 years elsewhere in NJ.)
    Talking about a budget shortfall should not lead to us talking about disbanding the paid department and magically replacing the trained professionals with volunteers who would materialize out of nowhere. I think those saying that must be joking.
    But… there are towns in this state and throughout this country that do have volunteer departments that cover a population and fire load of the same size. So we do have what can be considered overkill I think. Montclair has three fire stations. They exist not because of some carefully planned out master plan but they are where they happened to end up over many decades. In a town with an all-paid department and with the number of rigs staffed, for the relative fire load (and the fact that fire does not cover or provide EMS or EMS first response) it’s possible that you would want to be able to look at closing one of those stations without the populace having to fear the immediate burning down of have the municipality.
    Bloomfield’s fire chief insinuating doom and gloom because of some short staffing is pretty disingenuous to me. He has a job to do and has to advocate for his dept but in lean times, a very well paid and equipped fire dept with one less engine on the road is likely going to still provide excellent fire protection.
    These kinds of debates take advantage of the general public’s lack of knowledge and stir up more hysteria than anyone needs.

  9. “ROC-These statements were made to the town council just last night, and with more detail.”
    no they weren’t. the story says “told Baristanet” meaning he gave some kind of interview or statement to this site.
    He’s fear mongering in public. That’s not his job or function and he should be fired or disciplined for it.

  10. ROC and dxrrxd
    ROC-Wrong again on your part. Just because Baristanet says “told Baristanet” doesn’t mean he didn’t say it the night before at the council meeting. Which, by the way, he did.
    dxrrxd-If you were truly a volunteer in another town than you would know the response times and fire load of a community. Bloomfield’s fire load is far greater than most volunteer communities in NJ. It is considered urban and not suburban.
    Furthermore, you statement, “In a town with an all-paid department and with the number of rigs staffed, for the relative fire load” is not accurate. Otherwise, explain how the department received International Accreditation. Another detail you miss is the number of fires in the community. While they are not large conflagrations, there are more fires than the public is aware of. Why doesn’t the public know? Because the fd responds so quickly and aggressively, that the fires are kept from being too large. The last two fires, in the third ward, were kept to a single room with contents. If the township had been all volunteer, the houses would have been lost and most likely the fire would have damaged houses on the side exposures.
    Another fire this year started in a van someone was living in. They were using a space heater to keep warm and the van started on fire. What was reported as a vehicle fire turned into a vehicle plus the houses on either side. Again, the fire department kept the fire from extending deep into the houses and onto other homes.
    That is what makes the career fire department a necessity here. Our homes are closer together, older wood construction and many are multiple family dwellings. The fire load in Bloomfield is very high.
    And regarding fear mongering, the chief was asked if he lives in fear since his home is in an all-volunteer town. His answer? After a moment of thought was “yes”. By the way, he is/was a member of that department as well.
    It’s not fear mongering when you are given the job of protecting the public in a town of 43,000 residents. It’s being honest.

  11. With fire fighters, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. It’s one thing for less populated parts of the state to get along with volunteers, but most of Essex County is very urban with houses quite close together. A small house fire that isn’t quickly knocked down could easily take out an entire block in these parts. Volunteers are notorious for slow response times since they often respond from work, home, ect, get dressed & oriented, then if and when enough members show up to make up a company, they can head to the scene. Any paid department in our area can be on scene in about 5 minutes. This is the 21st century, giving up emergency services shouldn’t be an option. Find the money, or raise taxes. If Bloomfield Township wasn’t fielding a new lawsuit every ten seconds maybe there would be more money for fire fighters, but I digress.

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