Letter: HFD staffing levels way too low

Hoboken Fire Dept. Unions critical of Mayor Zimmer; low staff levels

The fire that took place at 300 Washington Street his past weekend was quite destructive, but we were very fortunate that no lives were lost.

However, local fire union officials have been warning Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her administration for some time about the dangers associated with having staff-levels that they feel are way too low, and put citizens in town in great jeopardy.

They sent out a letter to the Mayor and City Council – detailing their argument, and citing several examples that lead them to believe that the city has acted in a “grossly negligent” manner in terms of public safety in Hoboken. See complete letter below…

HFD Unions: City Grossly Negligent with Fire & Public Safety

“Dear Mayor and City Officials,

On February 19th, 2012, a fire occurred at approximately 7:00 PM at 300 Washington Street.

The initial response was severely limited due to the Hoboken Fire Department having two companies on a mutual aid detail in Jersey City for nearly 2 hours without any backfill. This left the Hoboken Fire Department with fourteen (14) fire fighting personnel to begin fire operations. This included tasks such as completing an interior primary search of the fire building for victims, an aggressive interior fire attack, ventilating the building to release the super heated gases and smoke and evacuate the buildings occupants. Keep in mind that the Battalion Chief, two pump operators and the aerial operator remained outside the fire building. This left a total of ten (10) fire fighting personnel to attack this blaze.

THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE and GROSSLY NEGLIGENT. It is impossible to effectively perform fire fighting operations with this number of fire fighting personnel.

Your administration has violated State law by not having an Accountability Officer, Safety Officer, Rapid Intervention Crew (should firefighters become trapped which almost happened), following the two-in-two-out rule or assigning an aid to the incident commander at the onset of interior fire fighting operations. One fire fighter was seriously injured and will be out of work for an extended period. We will be calling on the Division of Fire Safety and the Attorney General’s office to investigate this gross misconduct by your administration. The City also has a reporting obligation to the Division of Fire Safety as to the fire fighter’s injury.”

Union: City ignores warnings which have led to disastrous results

“Your unwillingness to heed the continuous warning of our locals and properly staff the Department has finally shown its disastrous results, as evidenced by the total loss of 300 Washington. This loss is right on the heels of another total loss fire at 97 Jackson (December 17, 2011) and a loss at Fox Hills Gardens (January 2012), which. I feel it is also important to mention that the Director of public safety Jon Tooke was not present at any of these total loss fires. You and your administration paraded the Matrix audit of the Fire Department as gospel when, as we previously pointed out, it is most assuredly a work of fiction. The audit is full of inaccuracies and contradictions and the city has not even been following the results of audit.

It is our opinion that this administration has severely compromised the safety of the citizens and firefighters of Hoboken by continuing to rely on the Mutual Aid from surrounding communities. Local’s 1078, 1076 and the fire chief forewarned Director Tooke about relying on mutual aid.

He chose to ignore the warning.

This fire began approximately at 7:00 PM and Hoboken had two companies out of town in Jersey City. The Jersey City Fire Department was battling a five alarm fire in their own City. When Hoboken called for assistance from the surrounding community’s fire departments, no one was available for immediate response; they were battling their own fires. The mutual aid companies called to the scene did not come from the usual neighboring communities but from Newark, East Newark, Elizabeth, Bloomfield and other cities. Their response was severely delayed; some companies did not arrive on scene until 8:30 PM. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.”

Union: City audits were dangerously flawed

“The Unions are in possession of an audit conducted by the International Association of Fire Firefighters which contradicts the findings of the matrix audit. The IAFF used nationally accepted standards from the NFPA, as well as the City of Hoboken’s geographical makeup to respond to Matrix’s findings. The IAFF’s audit is in a draft form and will be finalized within a few days. The Matrix Audit conveniently did not use the NFPA manpower standard formula for that portion of the study and in other places as well. The Unions will be forwarding the IAFF audit as well as related documentation to the Administration, media and citizens of Hoboken as well as the 97 Jackson Street and 300 Washington Street victims.

The Locals will be contacting the Division of Community Affairs to review the City’s financial irresponsibly with regard to the Fire Department and it fiscal mismanagement. The City has already defaulted on its original SAFER grant obligations. In that grant application, you will find that the City certified to FEMA, that it needed ninety two (92) firefighters to operate the Department and attempt to comply with the NFPA staffing recommendations. We now have sixty seven (67) active fire fighters, which is twenty five (25) short of that total. It is highly unlikely that the City will be selected for any upcoming SAFER funding.

The Unions will be in direct contact with the citizens of Hoboken, building owner(s), tenants and insurance companies of 97 Jackson Street and 300 Washington Street to make them aware of the drastic manpower shortage which exists within the department. It is our hope that each and every responsible member of the city’s administration be held personally accountable for this gross negligence regarding the Hoboken Fire Department.

The City has an obligation to maintain safe and proper staffing levels and apparatus on a daily basis. Local’s 1078 and 1076 call on you and your administration to immediately reopen the Engine Company, which was permanently closed, and staff apparatus to the nationally accepted levels, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).

You should be thankful that no one was killed at this blaze. Next time you might not be so lucky!

Sincerely,

Matthew Markey
President Local 1078

Jason Cassesa
President Local 1076

CC:
Richard Blohm, Fire Chief
Arch Liston, Business Administrator
Jon Tooke, Public Safety Director
Hoboken City Council Members
New Jersey Attorney General, Jeffrey S. Chiesa
Division of Community Affairs, Richard E. Constable, III
New Jersey Division of Fire Safety
Dominick Marino, State President PFANJ, IAFF
Bruce Leader, Local 1078/1076 General Counsel

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20 Comments on "Letter: HFD staffing levels way too low"

shameful
Member
shameful

One last comment regarding the Matrix Audit. The City paid for it & isn’t even abiding by it.

Mavrande
Member
Mavrande
Here’s what happens after a telephone call report of fire in jersey city or north hudson: Four engines, of which one or more may be “squads”, equipped with extra firefighters, two or three ladders, of which one or more may be a “tower ladder”, a rescue company, a battalion chief, and an extra ladder truck as the “rapid intervention team” is assigned. When it is confirmed by units on scene, that increases to an extra chief as the “safety chief”, the deputy chief if available, and possibly an extra ladder and engine. Units are also “backfilled” – since every firehouse in a small area is depleted, units are moved up to cover the loss. In Hoboken, we assign our entire department: 3 engines, 2 ladders, a rescue, and a chief. On Sunday there was no safety battalion or rapid intervention team, at least not right away, and the initial assignment was significantly fewer apparatus than is standard, and was even fewer firefighters because each of our trucks (except the rescue, I think) has only 3 firefighters on it. Now let me tell you how close of a call this really was. I don’t need to remind you that two stories of this building collapsed. I do need to note that at least once, attack crews were in the building and very nearly left without a way out. Listen to these short audio tapes: That quick siren that sounds at least twice in the second video is the evacuation tone. That… Read more »
Mavrande
Member
Mavrande

By the way, there was just a W/F – one alarm only – at 1415 Washington – nothing major, the fire’s out, but the city is still without coverage because all personnel are picking up and helping ventilate. We can’t ventilate a building after putting out a trash fire without either leaving the rest of the city unprotected or calling mutual aid, so it’s a good thing we have JC to call on when we need them.

Also, I dropped another comment here about the situation on Sunday but I linked to some radio audio, so it may be held for moderation.

Ventura
Member
Ventura

For the record, I’m not a Zimmer supporter (or detractor)…I rate all politicians equally, which is to say I don’t care for any of them.

Anyway, I can’t get too worked up about a letter from union presidents about how we need to hire more of their members.

As far as I know, the Matrix Group is an independent entity…they conducted a study and deemed the staffing to be adequate.

And now the unions have commissioned their own study by the International Assoc of Fire Fighters…no conflict of interest there.

shameful
Member
shameful
Matrix may be an “independent” group, but how independent are you when you are accepting $$ from an entity to perform a service. The City PAID for an audit & steered it in the direction it wanted. Why do you think it took 10 months to complete?! How many drafts were made before the City accepted Matrix’s findings? The independent way of doing he audit would have been to ask the state to come back in & complete their audit. However, the City probably didn’t like what the auditor had said. The fact of the matter is, the City viewed the FD as an insurance policy & by reducing staffing levels, it was the equivalent of reducing their insurance coverage & rate. By the way, allow me to draw a comparison with a different result. The building where It’s Greek to Me went on fire 8 years ago at 430 AM. That building was very similar to 300 Washington St in construction. With the proper manpower (which FD had back then), they were able to stop the fire before allowing any sort of collapse or structural damage. Although they were “chasing” the fire then, they had the manpower to perform the functions needed to stop the destruction. FD was unable to this time. Simply put, not enough people to perform the task. [quote comment=”214109″]For the record, I’m not a Zimmer supporter (or detractor)…I rate all politicians equally, which is to say I don’t care for any of them.Anyway, I can’t… Read more »
escaped68
Member
I agree with you, I feel as this person is either a paid consultant or a person who is acting as a spokes person for the mayor. It seems as he or she is quoting directly from some report. Or it could be a retired FD member who has a axe to burn.[quote comment=”214135″]Matrix may be an “independent” group, but how independent are you when you are accepting $$ from an entity to perform a service. The City PAID for an audit & steered it in the direction it wanted. Why do you think it took 10 months to complete?! How many drafts were made before the City accepted Matrix’s findings? The independent way of doing he audit would have been to ask the state to come back in & complete their audit. However, the City probably didn’t like what the auditor had said.The fact of the matter is, the City viewed the FD as an insurance policy & by reducing staffing levels, it was the equivalent of reducing their insurance coverage & rate.By the way, allow me to draw a comparison with a different result. The building where It’s Greek to Me went on fire 8 years ago at 430 AM. That building was very similar to 300 Washington St in construction. With the proper manpower (which FD had back then), they were able to stop the fire before allowing any sort of collapse or structural damage. Although they were “chasing” the fire then, they had the manpower to… Read more »
Ventura
Member
Ventura

I’m neither of those things. I’m more than capable of having an opinion on something without being directly involved…shocking right?

My only point is that having a union president tell me what an appropriate level of staffing should be for his constituents just doesn’t make sense to me. Why doesn’t the union president hire an independent firm to contradict the Matrix Group? Why is he having the IAFF do it?

I don’t know Mayor Zimmer…I just moved here not too long ago. One of the few times I’ve seen her “in action” was during one of the interviews she gave regarding the parking situation in Hoboken. I came away from the interview thinking, “this lady just flat out lied to my face”. It was horrendous. And based on that small sample size, I don’t really care for her.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that a union president shouldn’t be telling me what is an appropriate staffing level should be. [quote comment=”214136″]I agree with you, I feel as this person is either a paid consultant or a person who is acting as a spokes person for the mayor. It seems as he or she is quoting directly from some report. Or it could be a retired FD member who has a axe to burn.[/quote]

escaped68
Member

Some one should, because you are a clueless puppet of city hall. A opinion of your own?????? you’ll do what you your told.[quote comment=”214163″]I’m neither of those things. I’m more than capable of having an opinion on something without being directly involved…shocking right?My only point is that having a union president tell me what an appropriate level of staffing should be for his constituents just doesn’t make sense to me. Why doesn’t the union president hire an independent firm to contradict the Matrix Group? Why is he having the IAFF do it?I don’t know Mayor Zimmer…I just moved here not too long ago. One of the few times I’ve seen her “in action” was during one of the interviews she gave regarding the parking situation in Hoboken. I came away from the interview thinking, “this lady just flat out lied to my face”. It was horrendous. And based on that small sample size, I don’t really care for her.However, it doesn’t change the fact that a union president shouldn’t be telling me what is an appropriate staffing level should be.[/quote]

Ventura
Member
Ventura

“A opinion of your own?????? you’ll do what you your told.”

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! How dare I think for myself!!!

Feel free to continue being a sheep. I’ll continue thinking for myself, thanks for the advice though. [quote comment=”214165″]Some one should, because you are a clueless puppet of city hall. A opinion of your own?????? you’ll do what you your told.[/quote]

sasha
Member
sasha

Hoboken’s Fire Department is the best! They are highly professional and well trained:
Thank God no one was killed. If it is understaffed, as seems to be the case, hire more
firefighters for the safety of the citizens of Hoboken and the safety of our firefighters!
Great job HFD!!!!

whineanddineinhob
Member
whineanddineinhob

Very well stated sasha. Do you think you would have this “highly professional and well trained force” if we listened to this jacksass above who want to recruit volunteers from the PATH station?[quote comment=”214107″]Hoboken’s Fire Department is the best! They are highly professional and well trained: Thank God no one was killed. If it is understaffed, as seems to be the case, hire more firefighters for the safety of the citizens of Hoboken and the safety of our firefighters! Great job HFD!!!![/quote]

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