Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Open Letter to Borough of Newfield Council & Mayor

227 Church Street
Newfield, NJ 08344
September 5, 2013

Borough of Newfield Council & Mayor
18 Catawba Avenue

P.O. Box 856

Newfield, NJ 08344

Dear Sirs & Madam:

At the last regularly scheduled Council Meeting held August 8, 2013, a new ordinance was introduced.  Since the text of the ordinance was not available, a member of the audience asked what was the subject and content of the new ordinance.  We were told to the best of my recollection that it was mostly cosmetic changes and that election of officers was to revert to the volunteer fire company rather than be selected by Borough Council.  Subsequently, I have found that the cosmetic changes are more than that by reading the public notice printed in the South Jersey Times on August 14, 2013.

At the next Council Meeting on September 12, 2013 I expect you will vote to enact this ordinance, as that is the customary procedure.  Since I object to some of its wording, I feel I have a duty and responsibility as a voter and a taxpayer to make clear my objections prior to its enactment, while you still have time to re-write it or withdraw it.

For clarity reasons, I will quote each section and then provide my comments.

Just to be certain I understand, 2013-8 amends 2013-7 which was its self an amendment of ordinance 2011-15.

This establishes what authority you are exercising in making this ordinance.
Chapter 25. Fire Company 25 .1. Establishment. There is, and has been established, within the Borough of Newfield a fire company, known as the Newfield Fire Company No. 1 (hereinafter "NFC") was which was created and established is hereby continued to be recognized by the Borough of Newfield. No other fire-fighting organization is to be formed within the Borough without consent of the Borough Council. NFC must comply with all the requirements of this Chapter and any rules or regulations promulgated hereunder.

As this starts, it contains what I expect and hoped for: recognition of the volunteer Newfield Fire Company No. 1 (NFC) as the fire-fighting organization for the Borough of Newfield.  This provides the necessary legal authorizations for them for liability and insurance purposes.   It also provides a fire-fighting capability that as a taxpayer and voter I need at lowest cost – through a volunteer/unpaid organization.
I believe the next sentence about forming other fire-fighting organizations is both unnecessary and unwise.  It is unnecessary because even if a group designated itself a fire-fighting organization, it would not have authority to fight fires in the Borough.  It is unwise because it restricts future actions that technological innovation or other state or national events may make obsolete.
The last sentence about NFC adhering to requirements and rules is also unnecessary.  NFC must obey NJ and national regulations and is subject to the authority of the Gloucester County Fire Marshal.    The members’ conduct is also subject to their own by-laws.  Those regulations are more than sufficient to ensure that the volunteer fire fighters are qualified and able to perform their duties.  Furthermore, the authority of the Gloucester County Fire Marshal applies expertise in fire and other hazard response that current or future Council members do not and probably will not have unless a Newfield resident becomes the Fire Marshal.
25.2. Line Officers. The line officers of the NFC shall consist of a Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, Lieutenants, and Fire Police Captain as shall be elected by the NFC and submitted to the Borough Governing Body to ensure that they are properly credentialed and qualified to serve as firefighters as provided by law and regulation.
I assume you lifted the names of the line officers from the current by-laws.  Enacting into law is unnecessary as these names may change as state and federal guidelines and regulations change. If the by-laws are changed and the fire chief becomes the Grand Poobah, why should any one care?  What I as a citizen and you as the Governing Board should care about is that it is at all times clear in the bylaws who is in charge and the chain of command at the scene of a fire (or other hazardous event). This is needed because of NJ statue

40A:14-54.1. Authority at scene of fire of fire official in charge of supervision or direction of operations
The chief or other superior officer of any municipal paid or part-paid fire department or volunteer fire company, or a State fire warden, who is charged with the duty of supervising or directing operations at the scene of any fire shall be the sole authority within fire lines established by said fire chief or other superior fire officer, or State fire warden, at the scene of such fire with respect to all firefighting operations relating to the protection of lives and property endangered by such fire, and within said fire lines such authority shall supersede that of any municipal police authority. The authority hereby invested in the chief or other superior officer, or State fire warden, shall terminate at such time as he shall declare the fire out. Nothing in this act shall affect the powers possessed by the Governor under the various emergency acts nor the powers possessed by any State agency to protect the public health, welfare and safety.

L.1981, c. 435, s. 1, eff. Jan. 9, 1982.
I also think Borough Council has neither the skills to judge the qualifications or credentials of an individual fire fighter nor the authority to approve the officers of any volunteer organization.  I know the Superior Court ruling granted you the power to rule on a fireman’s credentials but why you would want that responsibility is what I don’t understand unless it is a personal one. It is my opinion that reflecting personal issues into a law makes a law not good, not fair, but poor.  Basically the Superior Court Judge said it was not in Council’s purview to appoint a fire chief, to run the fire company or determine firefighting protocol.  I would replace this section with paragraph endorsing NJ 40A:14-54.1

25.3. Approval of Department bylaws. The bylaws of the NFC shall be submitted for the approval of Borough Council. Any amendments thereto will not become effective unless and until formally approved by Council. Approval of the bylaws and such amendments shall not be unreasonably withheld.
I believe the judge already ruled that you could not approve the by-laws.  Asking that a copy be provided and kept up-to-date is reasonable.  So, please re-title and re-write this section to ask for a copy to be given to the Town Clerk for guardianship purposes.
25.4 Reports to Council. It shall be the responsibility of the Chief of the NFC to make all reports to Borough Council as hereafter required by this Chapter.
I believe the NFC by-laws, NJ State, and Federal regulations and guidelines spell out the duties and responsibilities of a fire chief.  Since the Gloucester County Fire Marshal has responsibility to make reports on a state level and because the NFC falls under the authority of Gloucester County Fire Marshal, any data needed would be requested by that office.  Whether the Fire Chief or some other officer of the NFC provides that data or some other entity (911 organization perhaps?), those are the proper channels.   
I recommend you remove this section as unnecessary and redundant to state regulations.
25.5 Ownership of quarters. The Borough of Newfield shall retain ownership and control over quarters entrusted to the NFC.
 At one time, the land where the current Borough Hall/Fire Station/Senior Center is now situated was under the control of the Newfield Board of Education and belonged to the Borough.  When Edgarton Memorial School was opened, use of the building that had housed the school was given to the NFC and they were permitted to build an attached garage for housing fire equipment.  Council meetings were held there and public and private functions such as Kiwanis and wedding receptions used the old school building.
Eventually, that building was replaced and updated to the current configuration.  I am sure that the land belongs to the Borough.  Whether the land and/or buildings are under the authority and control of the Borough Council or the Newfield School Board is an open question.
I think it would be wise to remove the clause about control.  Ownership should be all that is necessary to ensure that the building and its contents are covered by the Borough’s insurance.
25.6 Expenses. Borough Council shall supply to the NFC funding at its discretion, based upon the needs of NFC, and taking into account funds raised by this volunteer organization.
This paragraph is unnecessary unless you are counting under the needs of the NFC the funds for maintaining equipment owned by the Borough.  In which case, the proceeds raised by the NFC nor donations given to the NFC should not be used for maintaining Borough owned equipment.  That is a responsibility properly provided through tax monies.  You have the authority to give the NFC money to defray expenses such as training courses, training materials, damage to clothing, etc as a budget item as you, Borough Council, so chose.  It’s a requirement for the Police Department since that is a Borough paid organization, not voluntary, as is the NFC.  This is already under your discretion and does not need to be spelled out.
25.7 Purchasing and title of equipment. The Borough of Newfield shall retain title to all equipment purchased with funds supplied by Borough Council for the purpose of purchasing such equipment. However, nothing shall preclude the NFC from purchasing its own fire equipment or other personal property and retaining title thereof; provided, however, that if the Borough shall have a financial responsibility toward the purchase, operation or maintenance of such items, prior formal approval of Borough Council for such purchase shall be required.
So as it has been in the past, so it will be going forward.  I might add just after the last Borough Council the phrase “in its role as budget authority” to make it clear that you are only approving the total expenditure as within budget constraints, not vetting each bell and whistle.  When you order a new piece of equipment for the Police Department, you rely and trust that they will make the best choice within budget constraints or, if there is a feature they feel is necessary but exceeds the budget, they will make a case for that feature.
25.8 Duties of Fire Chief. A. The Chief shall be in full command and complete control at all fires and during the period of all alarms and shall be held accountable for his/her actions to the Council and shall make written and verbal reports as the Council may require. All other line officers shall be accountable to the Chief except when any officers are acting as Chief in his absence. B. The Chief shall formulate rules and regulations to govern the operation of the NFC, such rules and regulations being subject to review and approval by the Borough Council, and shall be responsible to the Borough Council for the morale and general efficiency of the NFC. C. The Chief or line officer designated by him/her shall, at least once a month, conduct suitable drills or instructions in the operation of fire-fighting apparatus and equipment, first aid and rescue work, salvage, a study of buildings presenting unusual fire problems, water supply and other matters generally considered essential to good firemanship and safety of life and property from fire. D. The Chief or any line officer designated by him/her is hereby required to report to the Borough Council any suspected crime of arson and shall render all possible assistance to the Borough Council and the Chief of Police/Officer in Charge in investigating the cause, origin, and circumstances of all fires of questionable origin. E. The Chief shall cause to be kept complete records of all fires, apparatus and minor equipment, personnel and other information about the work of the Fire Company. F. The Chief shall report monthly to the Borough Public Safety Chair the number and types of fires during the month, the number and purpose of all other runs made, the number of members and man hours involved in responding to each fire or other run, and the estimated los involved in all building fires. G. The Chief shall make a complete annual report to the Borough Council, such report to include information as specified in Subsection F of this Section, together with comparative date for previous years and recommendations for improving the effectiveness of th

As I stated before, NFC by-laws, NJ State, and Federal regulations and guidelines spell out the duties and responsibilities of a fire chief. Furthermore, some of the duties you are assigning the fire chief already belong to the Gloucester County Fire Marshal (arson determination and investigation, reports).  If Newfield were a fire district and NFC was its volunteer fire company, NJ would require certain data including that of a financial nature to be published on a website as part of the NJ State effort on transparency of government.  The guidelines for that data follow federal and state regulations with respect to privacy and security.
I recommend you remove this section as unnecessary to, redundant to, and possibly in conflict with federal and state regulations.


Margaret J Davis

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