Over the last several days I have read and heard various opinions regarding the bid that the Township submitted to Glen Ridge for fire suppression and extinguishment services. There is a great deal of misinformation being put out and I write to provide facts.

First, I am incredibly proud of the women and men of the Montclair Fire Department. The uniformed personnel and civilian staff who support them who report to work every day to protect the residents of and visitors to our Township are professionals in training and in dedication and it shows every single day in their work.

National Fire Protection Association standards set forth that, when responding to a report of a fire at a 2000 square foot two-story single-family dwelling with no basement and with no homes on either side that could be threatened by the fire, a minimum of 4 firefighters respond on each engine and a minimum of 4 firefighters respond on each ladder truck in addition to one Battalion Chief. The Montclair Fire Department does its best to meet that minimum, however, given its current staffing levels even that is sometimes not possible. Frustratingly, our Fire Department is often compared to other fire departments when staffing is discussed. What is often overlooked, naturally, is that our Township has many multi-storied business and residential buildings in its multiple Business Zones and Residential Zones. A report of a fire in one of these very large buildings requires a significant amount of resources and a timely response to ensure the preservation of life and property. I will write that again: A report of a fire in one of these very large buildings requires a significant amount of resources and a timely response to ensure the preservation of life and property. Anything less than as quick a response as possible by a full complement of professionally trained firefighting personnel and required resources could result in the loss of life by an occupant or by a firefighter and that simply is not acceptable.

Some have erroneously said that, in 1990 when Montclair and Glen Ridge first engaged in a Shared Services Agreement, our Fire Department added firefighter personnel. Some have said 10 firefighters were added. Some have said more were added. Neither is true. Here are the facts: In 1961, there were 82 firefighters in the Montclair Fire Department. In 1993, there were 82 firefighters. In 1999, there were 79 firefighters. In 2013, there were 81 firefighters. And today, there are 76 firefighters in the Department. We have always been in that range and truly need more personnel even today. To be clear, as Fire Chief and as one of the firefighters who responded to the first major fire in Glen Ridge at which a Montclair Fire Department Captain perished, I will continue to advocate for the number of firefighters on staff required to safely protect the residents of and visitors to Montclair. I will not allow them or firefighter personnel to be put in jeopardy.

For decades, Montclair has been a party to the Mutual Assistance Agreement for supplemental fire assistance among every town in Essex County, commonly known as Mutual Aid. For decades, and as recently as this past Sunday, Essex County towns’ fire departments have come to Montclair’s residents’ aid when we needed them. Likewise, Montclair Fire Department personnel are regularly dispatched to provide assistance to other towns when needed. It is true that the Agreement permits a sending municipality to request reimbursement for aid provided. However, I have never received or even known of such a request being made. I cannot imagine Montclair making a request of a sister town for reimbursement and I do not expect to receive a request from the sister towns whose fire departments were on Inwood Avenue on Sunday fighting the structure fire there. In simple terms, it just would not be in Montclair’s best interest to withdraw from the Mutual Aid Agreement. It would be the definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish.

It is true that Montclair’s cost to provide fire suppression service to Glen Ridge is quantifiable.
Using 2019 as an example (since it was pre-COVID), and using FEMA reimbursement figures for apparatus maintenance, fuel and depreciation and using current wage and benefits figures, it cost approximately $113,955.97. That breaks down to $46,166.01 for apparatus and $67,789.96 for personnel (including benefits). Again, those are actual costs using FEMA reimbursement rates and using salary and benefits figures. Given Glen Ridge’s contributions to Montclair under the agreement, the revenues minus all of our costs resulted in approximately $772,062.00 in net revenue for the Township in 2019.

I believe that the Township’s multi-year bid is good for the Township. It affords the Township fiscal stability and, given the noted costs for the service provided, it is beneficial to both Montclair and to Glen Ridge. A multi-year Agreement would contribute to the Department’s ability to recommend and to the Governing Body’s ability to consider and implement long-term financial planning, both in the form of collective negotiations for salary and wages and for capital improvements and expenditures.

I grew up in Montclair and lived in town for my first 26 years. I have served Montclair as a firefighter since May 4, 1981. I rose through the Department’s ranks serving as a Lieutenant, a Captain and as a Deputy Chief prior to being promoted to Chief of the Department in October of 2014 by then Township Manager Marc Dashield. I am dedicated to protecting the Township’s residents and visitors and I value the women and men with whom I work. I appreciate factual discourse and a fair exchange of ideas. I am confident that the facts that I have provided herein detail that the Agreement with Glen Ridge is about saving lives and not about maximizing profit – and that is the essential nature of being a firefighter as firefighters serve to protect and save lives – and that the Agreement is beneficial to both Montclair and Glen Ridge.

–John Herrmann, Fire Chief

17 replies on “Op Ed: Withdrawing From Mutual Aid Agreement Would Be ‘Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish’”

  1. I very much appreciate you weighing in on the discussion here. However, I have NEVER said nor my words inferred Montclair should withdraw from the EC Mutual Assistance Agreement.

    I also appreciate you putting on the record the need to expand the ranks of firefighters regardless of any agreement to service GR. I wish you had addressed the MFD’s long range capital & staffing need in expanding Station #3 on Cedar St.

    You are uniquely qualified to provide an expert analysis of these needs and their costs over the coming years…and the burden on taxpayers…and if GR should also share in this potential additional burden.

  2. This is actually becoming annoying, at least for me. Of course we should have a qualifed and well equipped and fairly paid Fire Department. It would be better if the Deprtment was even larger and was coordinated to serve several towns. That is the whole idea of Shared Services. The only issue here is how Montclair and Glen Ridge should divide the cost of those services. What is fair for both towns taxpayers. How does what Glen Ridge’s taxpayers pay for fire services compare with what the taxpayers in the other Essex County towns pay? They should not pay more but is there no reason why they should pay less? These discussions, in which the Fire Department’s Chief has apparently now been enlisted or volunteered to focus on Montclair’s incremental costs are frankly insulting to Montclair’s taxpayers, because implicit in them is the suggestion is that if you think the proposed contract is unfair you are against or not supportive of our firefighters. That is absurd.

  3. I agree pelberg– this is about how costs are shared, or not.

    It is easily verified that Glen Ridge is paying us less today than they were in 1991, in effective dollars. 32 years of service to them and their annual contribution has decreased—and is set to go lower in 2023. Can you imagine looking a fire fighter in the eye and saying “I’m going to compensate you less than you got in 1991.” No one would ever do this, and yet we are supposed to accept this from Glen Ridge?

    The state of NJ has a Shared Service office specifically designed to help towns negotiate shared service contracts—to ensure that towns fairly share the service and THE COSTS. The current contract is very different from the original one signed in 1990, when it was stipulated that in 1991 Glen Ridge would pay $492,000 (2022 dollars $1.1 million) with annual increases of 7% to cover salaries and operating costs. The intent of shared service is not supposed to have one town absorb all of the cost increases over 32 years, as Montclair has done.

    Montclair is obviously the best fire department for Glen Ridge– it’s proven it for 32 years. But after 32 years of being served by our professional fire department, GR should be expected to contribute toward the full personnel costs associated with a professional department–including raises, health insurance, pensions, disability.
    We deserved a chance to directly negotiate a deal, rather than a race to the bottom.

  4. Any attempt to incorrectly conflate the issues here to the quality of fire services, or about Montclair Fire Department personnel etc etc. — is really just a straw man argument. It’s wrong.

    This is just about how much money Glen Ridge pays for what is an insurance policy government service, so that they don’t have to provide their own fire department. Whether we continue to subsidize them, or if they start to pay their fair share of our total costs going forward.

    No one is really saying we should not provide Mutual Aid fire services to others in Essex County and to walk from that agreement as a policy goal. It is just a negotiating tactic that could have been used before but the Mayor and others can’t read the fine print it appears, that clearly says we do not really have to provide it and could have completely cut off Glen Ridge only — if we wanted — at our discretion.

    Instead, we continue to be played and squeezed here fiscally by our community neighbor — that they’ve done with a competitive set-up smile. And we’ve allowed it to happen by giving away our leverage points in the past (Aid/Fields etc) that could have been used — not getting incensed by their lack of fairness and disrespect — not directly negotiating first and letting this go to a bid situation and then not walking — both in the past and again today. Clearly, Montclair officials do not know how to negotiate when someone is playing hardball with them and do not see it. And now, we may not be able to recover from all this given the Bloomfield card with all monies exposed and on the table.

    But what is most incredible here, is that some of our own people in town do not support Montclair’s best interests. And instead, try to turn this situation into anything other than about equitable compensation and money — in affect, substantiate and excuse GR by distorting the core issue — which is how Montclair has been economically taken advantage of by our clearly more sophisticated neighbor.

    There is a reason Montclair built up $225 million in debt over the years, while Glen Ridge still has almost none.

  5. Eileen B

    WE finally agree that this could have been negotiated for more money, however it was a SEALED BID. So there are no negotiations.

    Let’s think of how our grandparents would look at this “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”

    Just a real life view of something that we are not experts on. Did this much attention get poured into all the other shared service arrangements Montclair has entered in. To my knowledge No.

  6. C’mon, naysayers & malcontents! The Chief did say above he was using FEMA rates for apparatus only.

    However, naysayers & malcontents, you have a point about the inconsistencies in Chief’s contract costing. Economics is clearly not his expertise and deserves to be chastised over his figures.

    He runs a department with an annual operating budget that is over 90% labor costs.

    Yet, when his department time travels into Glen Ridge during that magical minute response time, the department labor costs drops to 60%.

    It may be because time travel requires advanced apparatus and associated costs. Or maybe we are playing that game of apples & oranges…like the BoE does with that 31% figure. Who knows, it could be apples, oranges, & bananas, oh my!

  7. Jenn M,

    I think your viewpoints are the rule in Montclair. I would suggest a compromise with GR. Yes, one that is definitely a little hardball, after the fact.

    We offer them an extension of the existing contract for up to 5 years, at their option. They can cancel any time with 30 days notice. If they choose to take us to court, have at it. All can take a break and then hold actual negotiations, in the light of day, for a new long term contract. I’ll even offer to tutor on economic principles.

    PS: My grandparents had spines.

  8. Jenn M-
    The point is it shouldn’t be a sealed bid. It should be a fair negotiation. And you are right, we aren’t experts on shared services negotiations and it seems like no experts were involved. The NJ shared services offices wasn’t involved. Our own CFO was ignored. We had at least a year to do this right- there is no excuse for the mess that we are in.
    It is important to start paying attention and shedding light on the failures of our government.
    Somehow we find ourselves in the situation that we pay some of the highest taxes in the country and our schools are on the verge of collapse. So, I don’t think that we can really afford to let anything slide right now. Sorry, not sorry.

  9. Jenn M. — Yes, it should not have been a sealed bid situation. As I’ve suggested in other threads and comments — Glen Ridge should have been told then that if they went to a bid again here, that we would walk. No more mutual fire aid provided with them possibly putting their entire township at risk, no more field sharing and no cooperation on any inter-governmental front going forward from this kind of fiscal disrespect and unfairness — after 30 years of providing them subsidized services.

    That’s the kind of approach you take when you are being played and squeezed. You find any leverage you can to resist it — and push back. Not roll-over and then beg.

  10. And why would certain Council members and we know who they are agree to it and then flip at the 11th hour. They spoke in favor of it a week ago.

    It would be like buying a car, signing the papers, going to pick it up and the dealer says Sorry, it’s now 3 times the cost I told you.

    I can’t wait for the pushback on the BOE 188M Bond referendum that will be Epic.

    And there’s only 4 people talking about it unless there’s some Secret websites that are private and can control the narrative.

    Just an observation.

  11. The disinformation around the shared services agreement continues.

    NOBODY is saying we should withdraw from it or that we don’t need and appreciate other town’s help when needed. And if GR had no fire service plan, then ALL Essex County towns would respond, but they wouldn’t do it forever without asking for some compensation which would only be right because in that situation GR wouldn’t be providing anything in return. The shared services agreement DOES NOT MEAN Montclair is obligated to provide a 15-yr contract to GR any more than it requires Bloomfield to. It’s an entirely separate thing.

    EVERYBODY values the Montclair FD, and EVERYBODY wants a contract with GR. EVERYBODY. We just disagree on how we value those services and how much of a discount GR residents should receive relative to what Montclair taxpayers pay for. Personally, I value firefighters based on every single hour they are on call, and all the time they train, and I value their pensions, and overtime, and insurance. Others seem to value only the time they spend on a truck going to a call and the gas used to get there which I believe is how FEMA calculates reimbursements for one-off short term assistance in a natural disaster–not long-term on-call contracts.

    Yes, yes, the $750K in added revenue on top of “costs” is good and needed and welcome. But it seems to be a number pulled out of thin air out of fear that any more would result in GR…starting their own department? Going with Bloomfield that didn’t bid?

    I just believe that it is more appropriate to negotiate and arrive at a number that is calculated in some equitable way based on the true cost of sharing services in a similar manner that is done for Montclair taxpayers themselves: If you have a smaller house, you pay less in property taxes, you contribute less to the fire department regardless of your usage. Glen Ridge is smaller, has fewer calls, has fewer people, so of course they should pay less. How much less and how that is calculated is the issue here.

  12. Jenn M it’s interesting that you mention other shared service agreements since we also serve as GR’s Water and Sewer Bureau and can you take a guess who that financial relationship favors? As you say most of us don’t pay much attention to these things and maybe we should.

    For over a year I have been suggesting that we proactively act to assure a better negotiation for this deal. This is a 15 year deal that has significant financial implications for our town. We need to understand why we were not better prepared. There is absolutely No Requirement for a Blind Bid during Shared Service Negotiations. In fact, this is specifically NOT in the spirit of shared service. We could have approached GR to ask for a direct negotiation. We could have engaged the help of the experts at State Shared service office.

    But we did not and so instead we are stuck with a 15 year deal in which by the end of it it is almost certain we will still be receiving less money effectively than we were in 1991. This is why you need a financial expert to help you. I would think it should go without saying that a town should not submit a bid in which at the end of 47 years of service to one town the other town will be paying less than it was 47 years before. Glen Ridge has effectively contributed less than they were in 1991 for this entire decade.

    We have served GR for 32 years. At what point do we expect THEM to contribute to salary increases, pension benefits etc? A Powerpoint deck that values fire fighter time ONLY when they are responding to incidents–1 hour each– does not reflect the full value of their time. What happens to the other 23 hours? We don’t pay them? So GR should not contribute to compensating a Fire Fighter on the days their are no calls to GR? Does Glen Ridge pay their police only when they respond to emergencies? I don’t think so. But this is what we are claiming their costs are. This is not a true reflection of cost, and is not in the spirit of a shared service agreement.
    And yes I am aware of what happened in 2011, but Bloomfield was very unlikely to be bidding on this– much has changed about their department since 2011.

    Imagine this Scenario a Town would offer its residents:
    Option A: Pay $1200 toward the Fire Department whether you use it or not, every year.
    Option B: Don’t pay anything until you need the FD, at which time you will be charged at $250 per call.

    Follow Up Question:
    For how long will you have a sustainable fire department?

    This is essentially the scenario suggested by that PowerPoint Deck– Montclair being A of course and having $15 million in labor costs per year. and GR being B of course with per incident only labor costs of $35K. You cannot finance a fire department this way, and this should not have been how we calculated fair share of costs. This is what a Shared Service Agreement is supposed to be about. Not “Well, you would have to pay them anyway, so I’ll just throw in a bit for that hour I use it.” When this deal started GR had 9 career fire fighters. Do you know how long it has been since GR paid for anything close to 9 FF?

    I disagree with you that everything should only be “left to experts.” I believe that residents should try to understand what is going on and the rationale for why decisions are made. I think data should be shared and transparency a given.
    In this case, yes, I wish that there had been a more proactive approach– believe me I tried for over a year. I would still think that there could be room for negotiation. We need to continue to negotiate with them anyway for other things, like playing fields, water and sewer maintenance.

    We should establish a culture of respect and work together to establish agreements that serve the interests of both towns. Direct negotiation is the bare minimum. I assure you there are no other towns that operate this way when it comes to a valuable asset like the Fire Department.

  13. The simple math over 10 years is 11.2M gross and if our cost average is 120,000.00 overall it’s close to 10%. We would net 10M.

    Please vote Yes.

    I really think there’s not a number you would be happy with

    Bloomfield WILL

    And let’s all remember Glen Ridge was a 8 man department and volunteer. And they could get any volunteers in 1989

  14. Ah, yes, simple math. I can spot a Montclair Public Schools alumni just by seeing a few representative calculations. That education has served you well.

  15. Councilor Cummings is doing his BoE stick again. I find his lack of character and transparency appalling. I’m done with that guy.

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