Bill's Point of View:
I am going to jump into the "Fire" that is burning between the Gloucester City Mayor and Council and the Gloucester City Career Firefighters. I have a couple of questions to ask and I want to make a couple of points. Hopefully a resolution will be found soon, as I feel if this topic is allowed to fester, it will divide the community.
All parties should be able to debate their differences without over reacting. The fact that a fireman had to be removed from this month's council meeting because of his histrionic show of temper did not help matters. Mayor and council represent you and me. When someone disrespects their office he or she is disrespecting the residents of this community.
One of the most sensitive topics is the tragedy that occurred in 2002 when three firemen (one paid and two volunteers) along with three children lost their lives in that terrible fire. Mention it and everyone starts walking on eggshells.
I also remember how heart breaking it was when volunteer Fireman Dick Wright Sr. and volunteer Fireman Dan Revelli, lost their lives. Dick died fighting the Smitty's Bar fire while Dan lost his life fighting the Dennery Dairies fire. I knew both men personally. Yet in my years of reporting about Gloucester City I never recall their names mentioned as a reason for increasing manpower in our fire department. Nor do I recall their names being used to gain public's support during union negotiations with the City.
In a nutshell the upcoming union contract for the Fire Department has nothing to do with 2002. But it does have something to do with fiscal responsibility. And the residents of Gloucester City elected the individuals on council to represent our best interest. Let's face it. Our community is poor. We have labels to prove it; Urban Enterprize Zone and ABBOTT District. It doesn't get any worst then that.
It is obvious as you ride through the City there are fewer homes and fewer residents to help pay for the services we have become so use to. Looking at the City's demographics you'll find there are 4604 housing units with a population of 11,484 living in a radius of 2.83 square miles.
That is important to remember.
As you look around to more affluent communities you'll find they are operating their Fire Departments with fewer paid men utilizing volunteers to fill in the gaps. For example in a recent Courier Post article the Chief of the Florence Fire Department said his community of 12,000 residents relies on six career firefighters (Gloucester City has 34) and 35 volunteers (Gloucester City has 25). Florence, a community in Burlington County, has 4391 housing units spread out over 10 square miles.
In the same article Chief Stephen Hubbs, of the West Deptford Fire Department said his community has 20 career firefighters (Gloucester City has 34) and 110 volunteers (Gloucester City has 25). Hubbs cited statistics from the National Volunteer Firefighters Council that say 70 percent of firefighters nationally are volunteers. In West Deptford there are 19,368 people living within a radius of 17.76 square miles. There are 8,000 housing units.
Something that should be made public ASAP is why the Fire Department spent $50,000 in one month for overtime. The Fire Department was allocated $240,000 for overtime this year. The City said as of August the Fire Department went over that amount by approximately $30,000. Are some firemen amusing sick leave? Or do we have firemen who are injured? And if that is so, how come the public was never told?
Why has the paid fire department refused to utilize the volunteers who are more than willing and capable of doing the same job to help cut back on overtime? Most communities use volunteers to fill in the gaps. Example is Winslow. The township gets fulltime coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and volunteers are on hand in fire stations from 6 p.m. to midnight. After midnight, volunteers respond from home to the station and the fire scene. The population of Winslow, which is 58 square miles, is about 34,000 people.
Mayor and Council stated the budget for the City's Fire Department is $4 million. The union for the Fire Fighters claims in 2006, the fire department budget was 15.71 percent of the total Gloucester City budget and it cost the residents $2.49 million for all the fire department services. Who are we to believe? Both sides should release the figures they are using to justify their numbers so the public could see for themselves.
Whatever the number turns out to be it is apparent that the budget could be reduced if our volunteers were put to use. Other communities do it why can't we?
The two sides need to sit down and discuss the problem considering all alternatives. Gentlemen, leave your emotions on the other side of the door. The future of Gloucester City is at stake.
Hopefully the public, along with the rank and file of firemen, will do the same when submitting comments to this site and or to the Gloucester City News.
I personally like to thank each and every fireman, paid and volunteer, for risking their lives protecting me, my family and my community. As far as I am concern, you are "SIMPLY the BEST".
What is your opinion?
Author Bill Cleary
United States 2000 Census
Courier Post October 11 edition