Bloomfield fire station No. 3 is back open Thursday evening, while Engine 1 at fire headquarters was ordered to be closed, according to Steven Motzer president of the Firemen's Mutual Benevolent Association #219.
Bloomfield Township Administrator Yoshi Manale ordered Fire Chief Joseph McCarthy to shift manpower from headquarters to reopen station No. 3 at around 7 p.m. Thursday, Motzer said.
"There have been instances where chiefs have been replaced because they don't do what the town administrator wants," said Motzer. "Whether that was threatened to (McCarthy), I don't know."
Motzer said he has not spoken to McCarthy since learning of the switch in engine closures.
Closing engine 1, the busiest engine in town, is more dangerous than shuttering station No. 3, according to Motzer.
"The chief was doing the rotational closure to lessen the impact," he said. "It's all mathematics, it's all risk. If you have a busy company, you don't want to shut it 100 percent of the time. You do what you can to shut it minimally."
The decision came after a long day of negotiations between Manale and McCarthy over staff size and rotating closures of fire stations in town. Earlier Thursday, station No. 3, located on East Passaic Avenue, was shuttered as part of the fire chief's plan to rotate the closing fire house closings.
"It's a risky thing to do," said Motzer of the rotation, "but when you're forced to work within the bounds of 78 men - (McCarthy's) hands are tied. He was ordered not to do that anymore."
The station was closed because there are not enough men to staff the apparatus, McCarthy told Patch Thursday afternoon. Rotating closures of the three fire stations and Engine 1 at headquarters at Monday's town council meeting, but McCarthy said he was waiting for "paperwork" from Manale before making an official decision Thursday.
Manale said Thursday he has told the chief to not rotationally close fire stations, noting the town has operated with just Engine 1 being occasionally "browned out," or temporarily closed, .
"The council and mayor have never said they want a house closed," said Manale. "The issue is the fire chief seems to have a different opinion than the town on how to staff the fire department."
Manale would not disclose details of the memo that was sent late in the day to McCarthy, but he said earlier the issue of staffing would be addressed. Of the 78 men currently staffed at the department, about 71 non-ranked men are left to fill four shifts, according to Manale. That equates to about 18 men per shift. An engine is closed any time staffing levels fall below 14 firefighters.
"Five guys are not on (today). That's not because of the town, that's because three to four are taking vacation each day," said Manale. "If it really was about safety, those guys would come in. Or they'd call someone (to fill in)."
On Thursday afternoon, a banner hung outside fire station No. 3 reading, "This fire station is closed. In case of emergency call 911" in both English and Spanish.
"That sign is a black mark on (the township's) leadership," said Motzer. "It shows they can't run town efficiently. They're making mistakes and taxes are going up. They don't want to emphasis that - they want to hide it."
McCarthy was notified by Manale last Friday that staff levels would be reduced to 78. Firefighters have to protest this change, saying it poses a serious public safety risk.
Motzer noted that because of the reduction in staff size, the Bloomfield Fire Department was unable to attend the annual training at the Middlesex Fire Academy, a two-day live fire program. There are not enough men to staff the stations while simultaneous sending others to training, which was held Wednesday and Thursday, he said.