Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Leonia Proposes Changes in Fire Protocol

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Leonia Proposes Changes in Fire Protocol

Article excerpt

LEONIA - The Borough Council introduced changes to its fire department regulations Monday that - if adopted - could help resolve the borough's 14-month dispute with its firefighters.

"I for one want to put this behind the borough," said Councilman Greg Makroulakis, who sits on the council's fire committee.

Borough officials and the town's firefighters have been bitterly divided since June 2013, when the borough briefly closed the firehouse and suspended the fire company in reaction to the alleged molestation of a child at the firehouse. In October, the council enacted new regulations intended to give the borough more oversight over the volunteer fire department.

The fire company is suing the town over the closure of the firehouse and suspension of the fire company, and over the new regulations. A trial is scheduled to begin next week.

Makroulakis said he hoped the changes would put an end to the litigation and lead to an open dialog between the two sides.

Before Monday's meeting, fire company President Brendan Reilly called the changes "a step in the right direction," but said the two sides still had issues to work out.

Those issues include stipends for the volunteer firefighters, the amount of which are not specified in the borough's ordinances.

The ordinance introduced Monday makes several concessions that borough firefighters had been seeking.

Perhaps the most significant change would be that the council's fire committee would have discretion in deciding whether an individual with a criminal record could be a firefighter.

The regulations imposed in October require all firefighters to undergo criminal background checks every two years. If they fail, they can make their case to the council's fire committee. If they disagree with the committee's decision, they can appeal to the full council.

Neither entity has much leeway in making their determination, because the new rules prohibit anyone who has been convicted of certain crimes -- including any sex-related offense or a crime involving fire -- from serving on the Fire Department. …

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