FIRE DEPARTMENT CONTROVERSIES IN NEW JERSEY.
The situation as regards the fire department in New Brunswick, N. J., where a paid force superseded a volunteer department on July 1, will, it is now stated, probably be taken into court for a decision. The specific point on which the local legal minds have been unable to agree is whether the fire commission appointed by the mayor is empowered to take full charge of the paid department. The mayor, so advices from New Brunswick state, has been in doubt about the procedure from the start and he explained his doubts when he vetoed the fire department ordinance on June 1, as follows: “I have grave doubts, which only a judicial determination can allay, whether the proposed ordinance is legal. Section XXIX of the city’s charter of 1863, gives Common Council power to establish, regulate and control a fire department, but the Legislature of the State, by a Statute of 1891 (Chapter 148 of the Laws of 1891) provides a method of establishing and controlling a paid fire department in cities of the second class when such cities resolve to substitute a paid fire department for a volunteer department. The second section of the Act of 1891 provides ‘That should any Common Council or other governing body of any city of this State of the second class adopt a paid fire department therein, as provided by the first section of this act, the powers and duties connected with and incident to a paid fire department shall be vested in a Board of Commissioners: the board to consist of five (5) persons appointed by the mayor. The third section provides that the Board of Fire Commissioners shall have power to elect all members and officers of the fire department and to determine and fix the compensation to be paid to each. By section four, the members have a tenure of good behavior. Section six provides that the board in control of the finances of the city apportion the funds necessary for the department. The last section repeals all acts or portions of acts and charter provisions inconsistent with the former provisions. It is a serious question in my mind whether the provisions of the law of 1891 do not direct Common Council to proceed by the method therein provided when it determines to substitute a paid for a volunteer department.’” The aldermen passed the ordinance over Mayor Scott’s veto and the mayor on July 20 appointed five commissioners to take charge of the paid department. but the doubt as to the proceeding continued with the result that now it is apparent a court ruling will be secured. On July 22d Mayor Scott signed warrants for services performed in the department during the first half of the month “notwithstanding the fact that the authorization for drawing these warrants does not proceed from the Board of Fire Commissioners” for the reasons that the commissioners had not yet been sworn in and that the service had actually been rendered. When the paid department went into effect each alderman selected two members of the department. There were thirteen paid men in the volunteer department and they were retained in the paid force. .It is likely that another New Jersey fire department controversy will find its way into court. The action of the Board of Fire Commissioners of Gloucester, N. J., who recently dismissed the entire membership of the department, is objected to by eight of the old members who were not re-elected when the commissioners elected a new list of firemen. They declare that the commissioners’ action was a violation of the city ordinance under which the fire department was created, and the rules governing the fire department, and they threaten to take legal action to uphold their contention. They contend that no member of the fire department can be summarily removed from office without charges first having been preferred against them and a hearing given. They also declare that they can be suspended for negligence or disobeying orders, but cannot be dismissed, and when charges are brought they must first be given a hearing, and if found guilty may be fined $1, and for a second offense may be fined $2. and for a third time being found guilty may then be discharged. They claim they were ousted from the department in violation of all the rules of the department, and that they propose to take legal steps to protect their rights. The resolution dropping from the roll the entire list of firemen was according to its text for the good of the service and for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the department. The new list of firemen, in which all the old members with the exception of the eight who now object, were re-elected, was divided as hosemen, laddermen and enginemcn.