The Train is Boarded, Loaded and Leaving the Station…Unity in New Jersey

By Ronald E. Kanterman

I would hope that most of you reading this are saying, “Hey it took this long for all of the fire organizations in one state to get on the same page?” I suspect that you’re all actually not saying this, and that most of you have been as fragmented as we were. To those of you who have been more fortunate than we, thank you, because we’re using your model.

On Friday October 29, 2004, in concert with FDIC East, 13 New Jersey fire and emergency services organizations met for two hours to discuss items of common interest in order to band together and start the ball rolling faster than it ever has toward the New Jersey State Capital in Trenton and all points west including Washington, D.C. The list of organizations included:

  • The New Jersey State Fire Chief’s Association
  • The New Jersey Career Fire Chief’s Association
  • The New Jersey Volunteer Fire Chief’s Association
Yes, there are three fire chief’s organizations, however in July of this year, the executive boards met and formed the “New Jersey Fire Chief’s Alliance.”
  • The New Jersey Deputy Fire Chief’s Association (battalion chiefs and assistant chiefs)
  • The New Jersey Society of Fire Service Instructors
  • The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (IAFF)
  • The New Jersey Firemen’s Benevolent Association
  • The New Jersey State Exempt Firemen’s Association
  • The New Jersey Association of Fire Districts
  • The New Jersey Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators
  • The New Jersey State Association of County Fire Marshals
  • The New Jersey Fire & Emergency Medical Services Institute

The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety/State Fire Marshal’s Office was represented for the purposes of observation and to answer questions from the body.

It should be plain to see why we were fragmented for such a long time. Each group has its own mission and motives. However we signed a “virtual peace treaty” as aptly put by a national fire service leader in attendance that night. Ladies and gentlemen, the paid folks are talking to the volunteer folks; the chiefs are talking to firefighters; and the instructors are talking to everyone. For so many years, each group would converge on Trenton with issues in hand and hope for the best. Sometimes they were successful, but most times were not. There are approximately 70,000 fire personnel in the state: 6,000 career with the rest being volunteer. Add to that number our EMS counterparts, and we’re more than 100,000 strong. That’s a lot of clout anywhere. We know how they talk about us in Trenton: “The firefighters are fragmented. They can’t get together on anything.” No longer will this be the battle cry of those politicians who have turned a blind eye to the fire and emergency services in New Jersey.

The leaders of any of the above organizations can now develop a white paper on any issue with which they or all of the organizations are, and bring it to this forum. With general consensus, they can then approach whichever political entry point necessary to address this concern and truly speak on behalf of the entire New Jersey fire and emergency services.

Our common goals are to build better emergency services, protect our responders, and serve the people we are sworn to protect, the best that we can with the best training, equipment and technology available.

If you are already here, then you’re ahead of us. If you are not, you probably need to be, and I say this kindly as we are just getting started ourselves. The train is loaded and leaving the station. We are about to embark on a journey like none we’ve ever undertaken in New Jersey. All of the organizations noted above have their collective hands on the throttle of this train. It’s pushed all the way over to “full speed” and we are all hanging on with excitement. We’re on our way. We hope those who are waiting for us at the station are preparing for our arrival. We can’t wait for this train to pull into the station for the very first time. It will be soon, with the hopes for a most successful future.

Special Note: The entire New Jersey emergency services community gratefully acknowledges Pennwell Corp., Fire Engineering and Mr. Bill Manning for sponsoring this summit.

Ron Kanterman is chief of emergency services for Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey, and a volunteer on call member of the Borough of North Plainfield (NJ) Fire Rescue Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration and master’s degrees in fire protection management and environmental science and is an adjunct professor of fire science at Middlesex County College. He is a member of the FDIC staff and advisory board and of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board.

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