Congressman Lance Announces Federal Security Grant for Westfield Fire Department
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 • 6:23am
WESTFIELD, NJ – Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) made a stop in Westfield on Monday to officially announce that the Westfield Fire Department has received a $33,885 federal security grant.
The department will use the grant funds to update aging fire equipment. Specifically, funds will be used to purchase supply hose and five new intake valves that will allow the department to better respond to emergencies.
“Westfield firefighters work tirelessly day and night to protect the residents of Union County,” Lance said at a news conference at the fire department. “In a time of scarce federal, state and local funds, it’s important that local fire officials have the resources and tools they need to carry out their important jobs in public safety. Having the right equipment means protecting the public and saving lives.”
Fire Chief Daniel Kelly, Deputy Chief David Kelly, Town Administrator James Gildea and Councilman Sam Della Fera joined Lance in making the announcement.
Fire officials said replacing aging equipment will help the department be more efficient in responding to emergencies.
“The Town of Westfield is very pleased to receive a FEMA grant in the amount of $33,885 benefiting the Westfield Fire Department,” said Mayor Andy Skibitsky. “These types of grants are especially helpful to local governments as they provide needed funding to replace older public safety equipment. Our fire department will be purchasing 4,375 feet of new 5-foot supply hose and 5 new intake valves with the grant funds. I want to thank Chief Kelly and Deputy Chief Kelly for their efforts in seeking and applying for these grant moneys.”
The grant, which is earmarked for “operations and safety,” will be used to replace the department’s 15-year-old, four-inch diameter hose.
News of the grant provided some relief to a fire department that has been battling recent budget concerns, although there are still plenty of concerns.
“Our biggest worry is there’s no ladder truck, so if we have to rescue someone from a five-story window, we have to wait for another town to show up,” James Ryan, a lieutenant in the Westfield Fire Department and vice president of Westfield’s firemen’s union, told TheAlternativePress.com. Westfield’s ladder truck was declared a total loss following damage by Hurricane Irene and has not yet been replaced. “It actually keeps me up at night, thinking about it,” Ryan said.
Even before it was damaged, the fire department was not always able to use its ladder truck due to recent cuts in manpower, according to Ryan. “There’s just not enough people to get everything out the door,” he said.
Only a few years ago, Westfield employed 40 paid firefighters. In the past two years, two of those have died and six retired, bringing the total number to 32. Of those, Ryan said one is out on workmans’ compensation leave and other is on leave due to an unrelated illness. Two more firefighters are expected to retire this year, meaning the department will have 25 percent fewer fightfighers than it once had.
“There hasn’t been any mention by the council of when they’re going to hire,” said Ryan. The lack of manpower has caused the department to change its minimum requirement of seven firefighters per shift to six. “It severely affects our ability to fight fires. Six people isn’t enough to put a fire out,” he said.
“The department has been downsized due to attrition due to the economic situation,” Deputy Chief Kelly said. He hopes those firefighters will be replaced, but does not know when or even if those positions will be filled again.
TheAlternativePress.com reporter Jackie Lieberman contributed to this report.