Volunteer Firefighters, New Jersey Borough at Odds Over Rule Change

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A policy change has flared tempers between firefighters and town officials in a Bergen County community. Brynn Gingras reports.

    Volunteer firefighters and officials in a northern New Jersey community are at odds over a rule change enacted last year that could cause dozens of the emergency responders to lose their jobs with the force.

    The borough council in Leonia enacted an ordinance in October requiring all volunteer firefighters to submit to physicals and criminal background checks. Under the rule any prior criminal convictions, including misdemeanors, could disqualify volunteers from serving on the Bergen County borough's fire department.

    On Monday, firefighters and Leonia residents turned out to a council meeting to voice their concerns about the rule change.

    “We have a depleted fire department,” said one resident. “You guys, with the fireman and the borough's council, have got to sit down and work this out.”

    Charles Germain, who has served as a volunteer firefighter in Leonia for 45 years, was among the firefighters at the meeting. After missing a deadline for a physical, he got a letter saying he was ineligible to work for the department and asking him to return any borough-owned equipment.

    “This town, this council made me cry,” he said.

    Firefighters like Germain had ample time to make sure they met the new requirements, said Leonia Councilman Greg Makroulakis.

    Still, the council announced before Monday's meeting that the deadline would be pushed back a week, NorthJersey.com reports. But some firefighters and community members are calling for the ordinance to be reworked.

    Mayor John DeSimone said the ordinance isn't part of a vendetta against firefighters, but is just smart policy.

    "We are just trying to straighten matters out so we have a safe and secure community," he said.

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