The Lakewood Fire Department appears to have double trouble. 1) They have difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteers, and 2) their current leadership is very "career department focused."

Curious minds wonder if these two problems are actually just one problem all wrapped up, i.e. because their current leadership is very "career department focused," they don't show proper appreciation to their volunteers, thus their volunteer base has dwindled and the remaining volunteers don't feel enough motivation to actively recruit other volunteers to join them.

This year's fire district budget, which for the first time has topped $10 million, includes a salary of $191,732 for Chief Yahr, $155,000 for Administrator Yehuda Beer, and $110,000 for Deputy Administrator Steven Mulholland. Attorney Ian Goldman's contract is for $195 per hour for his legal services. In 2022 the District paid Mr. Goldman close to $50,000 for his legal services, which was then billed at $155 per hour.

This budget covers 33 career members.

Just last night, the Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners approved announce expanding the career department with an additional 20 members.

This expansion will take place over 2 years.

The hiring plan entails 8 firefighters in 2024, followed by an additional 12 firefighters in 2025. This will increase the total number of career firefighting staff to 53 firefighters and officers.

Upon reaching the full complement of 53 career firefighters and officers, the Fire District will establish 3 fire companies, each comprising 1 officer - promoted from within the ranks - and 3 firefighters. In addition, a Chief Officer will be on duty at all times. 2 companies will be stationed at the Monmouth Avenue fire station, with the other company based at the Cedar Bridge Avenue fire station. These stations will be operational 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The volunteer firefighting force currently consists of 50 active members. Just a few years ago the volunteer base totalled 75 members.

The Fire Commissioners stated that they remain steadfast in their dedication to providing exceptional emergency response services, and that this expansion of the career department "reinforces their commitment to enhancing public safety within the community."

They added that the decision to expand the career division of the Lakewood Fire Department is "a result of careful consideration and the recommendations put forth by the district’s administrative and professional staff."

Herein is the big catch - the district’s administrative and professional staff are the very ones who are career department focused...

Either way, the Board of Fire Commissioners added that, "cognizant of the fiscal restraints placed on taxpayers, they have ensured that the hiring schedule will be implemented efficiently, adhering to the established financial framework." It is entirely unclear what this is supposed to mean, as the annual budget, which, for the first time, has topped $10 million, will definitely need to be increased in order to pay for the additional hiring and training.

Astute readers of FAA News will remember that, as previously reported here on FAA News, Chief Yahr urged the Fire Commissioners to strongly support the Township Committee's plan to permit high rise buildings in the Township. When BOFC Vice Chairman Larry Loigman interjected "the residents of the Township have nothing to gain here as only the unknown developer will gain," Chief Yahr feebly switched course by saying "the Township Committee are the ones who want to push through this ordinance. It's not our place to try to stop them for any reason. Our job is simply to figure out how to provide sufficient fire service for however the Township Committee chooses to permit the Township to continue to grow."

Additionally eye rolling is that the Fire Commissioners actually do hold a lot of power to stop some of the ever growing congestion in the Township - especially to ensure that wide cul-de-sacs are installed on long and narrow roads - yet, ironically, (likely due to the involvement/ collusion of their nicely paid administrative and professional staff), the current Board of Fire Commissioners blindly shirks this important duty.

Every Site Plan application that is submitted to the Planning Board gets forwarded to the Fire District for their review. According to the Planning Board, the Fire District is considered an "outside agency" which means that their approval is required before the Planning Board will allow any construction to actually occur. (Meaning, the Planning Board's own approval is contingent on the developer also receiving approval from the Fire District.)

However, instead of addressing this task appropriately, the Board of Fire Commissioners adopted their own Resolution which contends that "The Fire Department’s review is a more pragmatic approach and the recommendations are given on a case by case basis to assure an efficient and effective delivery of fire suppression... Their review is couched in terms of recommendations. The Boards have the final judgment as to the requirements taking into consideration the Fire Department’s consult... The technical requirements remain the prerogative of the individual Board and its professionals, as well as the professionals of the applicant."

More specifically, the New Jersey Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS) clearly states that the Planning Board can only require a full-sized cul-de-sac bulb if the Board of Fire Commissioners states that one is necessary so fire trucks can properly turn around.

As previously reported here on FAA News, the Planning Board had denied an application on East 8th Street because the developer refused to install a cul-de-sac bulb; subsequently Judge Hodgson overturned this denial, saying that because the Board of Fire Commissioners had no concerns with the application as presented and they did not require a full-sized cul-de-sac bulb, and the Planning Board lacked jurisdiction to require it, as only the Fire Commissioners can override RSIS.

The current Board of Fire Commissioners did not require a full-sized cul-de-sac bulb despite that there already have been multiple big fires on the block, and despite that the 2014 Board of Fire Commissioners did urge the Planning Board to require a turnaround.

Additionally, as previously reported here on FAA News, Attorney Adam Pfeffer has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Planning Board's denial of an application on Sunset Road and James Street. One of Mr. Pfeffer's key arguments are that the Board of Fire Commissioners had no concerns with the application, so therefore the Planning Board also should not have denied it.

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