Members of the Woodcliff Lake Volunteer Fire Department left Council Chambers Monday night disgruntled after the governing body denied approval to pay for what firefighters say is much-needed new pumper.
On Feb. 9, the council voted down a resolution 4-2 to authorize the town's Chief Financial Officer Harold Laufeld to prepare a bond ordinance to buy the engine.
"[I'm] extremely disappointed," said Deputy Chief Dan Schuster to the council before he and a handful of firefighters who were present that evening left abruptly after the vote.
The pumper was something the fire department has stressed it needed for months, as it was passed its 25-year life-expectancy and has concerns with safety. On a tour of the fire department in November, Schuster and Capt. Rob Kuehlke showed the council its 1989 Pierce Lance Arrow, which they were seeking to replace with a 2014 Pierce Arrow XT, which has LED lights, seatbelts and front and side airbags, among other amenities. The new pumper, Schuster said, was slated to cost $615,000, and excludes an additional $45,000 or $50,000 in needed equipment.
"We really felt we did our due diligence with our presentation," said Schuster in a phone interview after the meeting.
The deputy chief added that given dwindling membership, the department has to "do more with less people." Currently, he said membership in the borough is "OK." However, the borough's fire department has roughly 50 members, a mere 12 to 15 of which are Woodcliff Lake residents.
Department heads said previously that they were planning to purchase the pumper online via the Houston-Galveston Area Council - which awards contracts made available to local governments throughout the nation - by mid-summer to train before the inclement months. Council members Jacqueline Gadaleta and Eric Bloom voted in favor of the new pumper, which they saw as a good investment.
"Although it's a big spend, we really can't put a cost on human life," said Bloom after the meeting.
Gadaleta, who is the fire department's liaison, agreed.
"We should put the safety of our firefighters and residents first and foremost," she said. "It is not a want of the fire department it is a need and a necessity for all of our safety. How many men and women would get up at all hours of the night to fight fires and save people? Not many. These people deserve the utmost safety and a new fire truck."
While the Republicans did not give a reason for their decision that evening, councilmen Corrado Belgiovine and Tom Panso said after the meeting that they wish to finish budget talks before determining capital expenditures. Panso added that all other departments, including the police, public works, seniors and Tri-Boro Ambulance Corps have also placed requests for vehicles in the upcoming budget.
"Once the operating and capital budgets are set, we will then look at our short-term and long-term needs, and set up a schedule for replacement based on affordability and urgency," Panso said.
For Mayor Jeffrey Goldsmith, their decision was a "mistake."
"They deserve the truck," he said of the department after the meeting. "This is not a want, this is a need."
Despite the decision, the mayor and council said they hope to have the resolution back on the agenda "in the near future." Schuster said he would prefer the council not hold off for another year for the new engine, given the added strain on the department's other one, which provides first-due service.
"We feel it's pretty urgent," he said.