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Lack of Volunteers Forcing Gloucester Township to Restructure Fire Department





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 GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP NJ (February 15, 2019)--For many years, career firefighters employed by the above departments served as primary responders for emergency calls from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, when the majority of the volunteer firefighters were unavailable due to work obligations. Available volunteer firefighters provided valuable assistance to the career staff during weekday calls, and were the primary responders for emergency calls outside of career staff work hours.

While there were times that volunteer firefighters were in station for duty crews, training and other departmental functions, the majority of responses were home-based. In recent years the volume of calls has increased and the number of volunteer firefighters has decreased, resulting in a need to reevaluate our response model.

In early 2018, representatives of both departments, consisting of Fire Commissioners, the Fire Chiefs, and career staff union representatives met to discuss the feasibility of sharing the six career firefighters employed by Fire District 2 and the five career firefighters employed by Fire District 4 to provide a fire apparatus staffed with career firefighters 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result of numerous joint meetings and collective bargaining negotiations with the union, and as a result of the cooperative efforts of all involved, an agreement was reached to combine the career firefighters and expand their work hours to provide a 24/7 staffed engine, known as Engine 88. It was further agreed that all costs for the program would be shared equally by the districts.

After an evaluation of available apparatus, it was decided that Engine 822, owned by Fire District 2, was best suited for the program. While the engine currently displays the Engine 822 / Chews Landing Fire Department markings, it will be re-lettered in the near future to reflect its new identity as Engine 88, jointly staffed and funded by Fire Districts 2 and 4.

Engine 88 was officially placed in service on Sunday, July 8th at 8:00 am, and has been staffed with career firefighters 24 hours a day, seven days a week since that date. The engine is housed at either the Chews Landing Fire Station or one of the Blackwood Fire Stations, depending on which crew is working on a given day. From July 8, 2018 to January 31, 2019, Engine 88 responded to 660 calls for service. 470 of the calls were in Fire Districts 2 and 4, with the remaining 190 calls provided as automatic and mutual aid to other sections of Gloucester Township and surrounding towns. During the same time frame, Engine 88 arrived first due at three working structure fires and three serious motor vehicle crashes with entrapped occupants.

The career firefighters are assigned to one of three platoons, with a staffing goal of five firefighters per platoon. When the program was initiated in July, two of the platoons had four assigned firefighters, while the third platoon had only three assigned firefighters. Both departments recently applied for and received FEMA SAFER grants, valued collectively at over $300,000.00. The grants allowed each department to hire an additional career firefighter, with the majority of the salary and benefit costs covered by the grants for three years, thereby reducing the burden on our taxpayers. Our staffing has now increased to four firefighters on two of the platoons and our target of five firefighters on the remaining platoon. We’re hoping to partner with other fire districts in town in the near future to assist with funding the additional two positions needed to reach our staffing goal for all three platoons.


It should be noted that our volunteer firefighters are still a critical component of our response model. There are many emergency incidents that cannot be safely handled with only one apparatus, and our dedicated volunteer firefighters are relied upon to provide the vital staffing and equipment needed to safely handle these incidents. There are also times when Engine 88 is tied up on a call and our volunteers are needed to provide the initial response to reported emergencies.

In an attempt to increase the number of volunteer firefighters, several departments in town recently applied for and were awarded a FEMA Volunteer Firefighter Staffing and Recruitment Grant, valued at $397,500. The grant was hosted by Fire District 1 / Glendora Fire Company, and provides funding for four years for professional recruitment of potential volunteer firefighters, funds for physicals and protective clothing for recruited members, and financial stipends for volunteer firefighter in-house duty crews. As a result of the grant, there is now a staffed volunteer apparatus in one of the township stations each evening from 6:00 pm to 12:00 midnight.

In a business where seconds count, we believe our new response model has made our community safer by providing a rapid, consistent response to emergency calls, which will undoubtedly reduce property damage and loss of life as a result of fires and other emergencies.