9/11 Remembered and Fire Department Staffing Discussed at Westfield Town Council Meeting
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 • 8:30pm
WESTFIELD, NJ—A town council meeting on September 11 that began with mayor Andy Skibitsky’s remarks from an earlier 9/11 memorial and a moment of silence to remember the victims took a turn toward the personal when residents Maria Carluccio and Greg Kasko came before the council.
Kasko, Carluccio and Adina Enculescu regularly attend Westfield town council meetings, arguing again and again against the HAWK light and crosswalk system, which sits in front of Enculescu’s home. They have complained that the configuration is confusing and dangerous, that Enculescu’s driveway now appears to be a road on which to turn and that the signal devalues Enculescu’s property.
“At the last meeting, [Town Administrator] Mr. Gildea over here referred to Mr. Kasko and basically myself as a liar,” said Carluccio. She argued that “Someone is not telling the truth” as to why the light was placed where it was, adding, “I just find it very troublesome that nobody comes down here who lives where the light should have been … I find that very suspect and I’m sure everyone else does, too.”
Carluccio also complained that former Councilman Sal Caruana had been allowed to speak longer than the 10 minutes that she, Kasko and Enculescu are regularly allotted and that Caruana had been allowed to sit down and then re-approach the microphone—something that opponents to the HAWK system have also been denied.
Kasko echoed that complaint, adding that Caruana spoke for nearly 15 minutes “without being given a two-minute warning,” as Kasko is often given. Kasko asked the council why they continued to let Gildea “misrepresent” information.
Gildea later responded, “Mr. Kasko is a disgraced former police officer that has no credibility in this town.”
Resident John Blake asked the council why the FEMA SAFER grant that the town had applied for—which might have funded additional paid firefighters—was not given to Westfield.
“Ask the federal government, Mr. Blake,” replied Mayor Skibitsky.
Blake asked the council why the town would apply for grants if council members were comfortable with staffing levels as they are. Councilman Keith Loughlin told Blake that the council had determined that the number of paid firefighters on the force was adequate.
Blake also complained that there were not enough volunteer firefighters to make up for paid firefighters not on staff, and that he believed that volunteers usually showed up 15 to 20 minutes after the paid firefighters arrived on the scene.
Blake said that the mutual aid that Westfield and other towns are increasingly relying upon to save money is meant for only emergencies, and reminded the council of the May 19 fire that destroyed a home on Barchester Way while some of the town’s firefighters were on a mutual aid call in Springfield.
Gildea later responded that the town applied for the SAFER grant because it was an opportunity to get a grant with no strings attached. “To suggest that we think we have a problem with staffing is not necessarily true,” he said. He added that, when firefighters left of May 19 to help in Springfield, others were called in to replace them that day.
“We are very fortunate to he able to maintain a paid fire department at the levels we have,” said Gildea. He later added that the town has four seven-man platoons.
Loughlin added, “Every member of this council is a resident of this town.” He also said that he strongly disagreed with the idea that mutual aid should be used only as a last resort.
Resident Carolyn Watson also asked the council for help with a town-owned tree with dead branches that hang over power lines on South Chestnut. Gildea told her that PSE&G, and not the town, must safely remove the branches, and that the town would look into it for her.
The council also passed a bond ordinance on second reading to authorize the acquisition of a new aerial fire truck with pumper, at a cost of $988,000, to replace the town’s 19-year-old ladder truck, which was totaled in last year’s hurricane.