Checking for heart problems
According to the introduced ordinance, any firefighter 50 years old or older must have a pulmonary/cardiovascular exam every two years. Anyone already in the department and is 50 or over must have an exam within 90 days of Jan. 24. If a firefighter has a heart condition, epilepsy or emphysema, they must report it to the fire chief.
The firefighter with the condition must have a doctor's recommendation to continue with the department. "This is just a precaution and a bit of preventative medicine for the department," said Mayor Dennis Elwell. "With modern technology in regard to heart problems and such - it is better to catch a problem early and correct it."
Elwell said since the volunteer firefighters can often deal with stressful situations, keeping abreast of their health would be beneficial to everyone.
According to International Association of Firefighters, older firefighters die from heart disease at twice the average rate of workers in other occupations. This is often caused by hard work in hot environments and heavy stresses from adrenaline and exposure to carbon monoxide.
High levels of adrenaline can increase by up to 154 percent in firefighters responding to a fire. This increases the oxygen requirements of the heart and other organs in an environment where oxygen is not in good supply.
Firefighters typically get donations from various people and businesses to use for social activities. Since the department is all-volunteer, the events allow firefighters to relax or allow their families to have quality time with them. The social funds also can be donated to charities or to charitable events such as giving to needy families in town.
"Besides doing good works in town, the firefighters have events for their own families since they are often away from home training or firefighting," said Deputy Mayor and firefighter John Reilly.
The regular expenses of the department are paid out of the town budget.
But the new ordinance states that any firefighter or fire house cannot accept any donation from an individual or business for over $250. If the donation is for over that amount, it must be reported to the town council for approval.
Elwell said that the amendments would prevent Battalion Chief Mike Gonnelli, who is also an unpaid commissioner for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, from having to recuse himself from voting on ordinances at the NJMC because a business or person had donated to the Fire Department. Last year there was a controversy around an ordinance concerning Wal-Mart, which had made several $1,000 donations to the Secaucus Fire Department budget.
"A $250 does not have to be recorded in our accounts, so it would not present a problem," said Elwell. "If a corporation, say like Hartz Mountain, who has donated in the past, wants to give a larger amount, we could alert the NJMC about the situation in advance."
There had been a fundraising ban on the Fire Department set by the Town Council a few months last year, during the Wal-Mart controversy. The ban provoked much anger among the firefighters.
The town eventually relented and let the department accept $250 donations. The addition to the code will formalize the guideline.
Also in the ordinance, firefighters cannot engage in political activity while on duty or use their names in relation to the department in any campaign activities. That goes for using department vehicles to campaign.
"We're not saying that firefighters can't run for political positions; they just can't use their position as a firefighter to enhance that campaign in any way," said Elwell. "They also have to use common sense about where they take their vehicles."
The council voted to introduce the ordinances at the meeting, and they will have to be voted on at a subsequent meeting before they can be enacted.
Gonnelli said he would not comment on the regulations.
Cieciuch did not return calls for comment.
In other department news
In other Fire Department news, in December, all three fire department heads - Fire Chief Raymond Cieciuch, Gonnelli and Deputy Chief Robert Parisi - had their vehicles outfitted with GPS devices. Global Positioning Systems can tell the exact position of the vehicle in which it is placed within six to 20 feet anytime, anywhere. "The GPS receivers worked so well in the Police Department, we decided to put them in the fire chiefs vehicles," said Iacono. "It's just another safety mechanism."
Secaucus police patrolmen ride alone, unlike in larger cities, where they ride in pairs. The Fire Department heads are the first vehicles onsite to any fire, Iacono said.