UPDATED 2:30 p.m.—Hoboken's Fire Unions Say Staffing Levels 'Unacceptably' Low

Unions sent letter to Mayor Dawn Zimmer and other City officials.

This story has been updated to include Mayor Dawn Zimmer's response. 

Staffing levels at the Hoboken Fire Department are too low, according to local fire unions.

In a letter to Mayor Dawn Zimmer and other city officials, union presidents Andrew Markey and Jason Cassesa write that the staffing level of the fire department is "unacceptable" and accuse the city of "gross negligance toward the fire department."

Hoboken currently has 67 active fire fighters. 

The letter comes in response to Sunday night's devastating fire, which happened at the same time of a major blaze in nearby Jersey City. Two of Hoboken's fire companies were in Jersey City when the Washington Street fire broke out on Sunday night a little after 7 p.m.

"When Hoboken called for assistance from the surrounding community’s fire departments," Markey and Cassesa wrote, "no one was available for immediate response; they were battling their own fires."

They continued, "this is unacceptable."

Zimmer, together with Fire Chief Richard Blohm and Public Safety Director Jon Tooke, released a statement around 2 p.m. on Wednesday. 

While thanking the firemen for their hard work, Zimmer added, "it is unfortunate that union representatives have put out a statement attempting to exploit this situation before all the public safety issues have even been resolved." 

"A full complement of 20 firefighters were on duty Sunday night, one more than the recommendation in the Matrix audit and one less than Chief Blohm has stated that he considers optimal," Zimmer wrote also. 

A fire audit that was released last April stated that the department had vacancies that should be filled. The audit also recommended the closure of one fire company—which has been closed since. 

"The audit is full of inaccuracies and contradictions and the city has not even been following the results of audit," the fire union representatives said. "It is our opinion that this administration has severely compromised the safety of the citizens and firefighters of Hoboken."

Zimmer said the city recently made staffing proposals that "were rejected by the unions," according to her statement.  

None of the building's residents were seriously injured on Sunday. Three firemen were hurt, and one of them will be out of commission for a while, according to the letter. 

"Your unwillingness to heed the continuous warning of our locals and properly staff the Department has finally shown its disastrous results," the letter stated, "as evidenced by the total loss of 300 Washington."

The firemen also criticized Public Safety Director Tooke for not being present at the scene of the fire on Sunday, or the fire that took place in December at First and Jackson. 

Demolition of the building on Third and Washington Streets started on Wednesday morning.

"The City will be conducting a complete after-incident review and will make appropriate decisions based on the actual facts after the completion of that review," Zimmer said. 

RedWing February 24, 2012 at 11:14 PM
I agree it is a policy problem, they need to backfill in Hoboken as soon as units leave town to fight fires elsewhere. If the PSD had taken that fire in he would have seen with his own eyes the need for such a backfill policy.
Redrider765 February 25, 2012 at 04:12 PM
You guys will be volunteering to backfill every time a cat gets caught up a tree in another town if you can rack up unlimited OT like that.
CuriousGal February 25, 2012 at 11:08 PM
As much as I would like to see more firemen hired, it is bad financial policy to make hires (recurring expenses) with temporary funds (grants). We need to simply hire more firefighters. No better proof for that than last years nearly $1,000,000 in overtime expenses.
ccj February 25, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Couldn't agree more. To use a tragic situation like this to try and win contract points is a disgrace to the entire department. The union leaders in Hoboken are a joke and they should be ashamed of themselves for their behavior. The fire was still being put out, their own men were still on the scene and they couldn't help themselves but attempt to take advantage of the situation. Makes you wonder if Russo was involved in this strategy. Total amateurishism that you would expect from that political lightweight.
ccj February 25, 2012 at 11:49 PM
"Contempt for the men in blue"??? You mean these honorable men that do little but embarrass the city with their reckless and unprofessional behavior? They act like thugs, embarrass the city and do little but complain about how tough they have it when in fact many....not all but many...are making twice as much due to the generosity of the city's taxpayers as they could ever make if not for the extreme nepotism that pervades far too much of the dept. Again in many though not all cases, Hoboken's men in blue are lucky to make what they are as their alternatives are minimum wage jobs given their skills and intellectual capabilities. It's not exactly like we're talking about a bunch of grads from top schools here. In many cases we're talking about people that could barely make it out of HS.... Though they had daddies on the force or council to pave the way. And then the city wonders why they have one of the most incompetent police forces in the state. How about another booze bus cruise guys. That seems to be where your skills are best directed.


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