The Police Department closed the recreation rooms of the North End Fire House, Engine 2, Rescue 1, on Paterson Plank Road last Sunday due to alleged alcohol on the premises, verbal altercations between firefighters, and destruction of public property.
The volunteer fire company will continue to respond to fire calls and have access to the fire engine.
The Police Department is still conducting an investigation, according to officials.
Two members of Engine 2 were suspended on Thursday for two weeks in connection with the incidents.
Conditions in rec rooms ‘deplorable’
Secaucus has a volunteer fire department with five companies. Alcohol is not permitted at the firehouses and the volunteer firefighters are responsible for maintaining the property as town custodians.
The recreation rooms at the North End location include the second floor and two back rooms of the fire house.
Officials said last week that the condition of the fire house recreation rooms is "deplorable."
The mayor and Town Council have asked the fire chiefs to look into the issue and noted that further disciplinary action is ultimately up to them. They have also asked the fire chiefs to ensure the department runs in an orderly and effective manner.
Officials also said the condition of the fire house recreation rooms is "deplorable."
The mayor and Town Council have also asked Town Attorney Anthony D'Elia to provide an overview of any potential disciplinary action that can be taken in response to the matter. D'Elia said that he wanted to clear any misperceptions that volunteer firefighters cannot be disciplined.
He gave examples of a number of punitive measures that can be taken against volunteer firefighters who have committed violations including: paying a $500 fine, a lengthy suspension, and expulsion.
History of issues
The North End Firehouse was thrust into the public eye eight years ago for an alleged 2004 incident of anti-gay harassment involving three former volunteer firefighters. The three were not reinstated as firefighters after a seven-month independent inquiry into the incident in 2011. A gay couple had said they endured violent threats and other harassment at the hands of firefighters assigned to the North End firehouse, which was next door to their home.
In 2008, the men won a $4.8 million civil lawsuit against Secaucus, paid by the town’s insurers.
The three firefighters were never criminally charged, but were implicated in trial testimony and other documents.
Concerns over safety, liability
Alcohol use has been a problem at volunteer firehouses throughout the country, as volunteering for the department is seen as a social activity in addition to a humanitarian one. In the early 2000s, one Secaucus volunteer firefighter launched a campaign to "shut off the tap," to prevent alcohol from being consumed at the fire houses, which had been a common practice at a few local firehouses that had a tavern-like atmosphere.
As of 2001 alcohol was banned from firehouses unless a permit was issued for a private party or social event. Firefighters in attendance at an event were prohibited from responding to fire calls if the alarm sounded.
The North End firehouse in 2001 apparently was in defiance of the new rules and held a toga party the day that the plans to limit alcohol use on public property appeared in the newspaper, which fueled rumors that a rebellion was underway.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.