Adding new recruits: North Hudson Regional adds 14 new firefighters, its first class of hirings
The North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue welcomed 14 new members to the fold in a special ceremony last Wednesday - the first new hirings since the formation of the regionalization encompassing five North Hudson municipalities went into effect nearly 18 months ago. The new firefighters - all of whom were either on the pre-existing civil service hiring lists of West New York or Union City before the start of the regionalization - agreed to a starting salary of $25,000, pending the outcome of current union negotiations for a new contract. If a new starting salary is reached as part of the contract talks, then the new firefighters will receive retroactive pay from the time they joined the NHRFR. Both West New York Mayor Albio Sires and Union City Mayor Raul "Rudy" Garcia officially swore the 14 new firefighters into service and at a ceremony held at the NHRFR headquarters in North Bergen. The hiring of the new firefighters increases the number of active NHRFR members to 288. In negotiations for a new contract, union officials were angered over the fact that no new hirings had taken place since Jan. 1, 1999, when the regional plan went into effect. "We shared their concerns about manpower and we feel that we're beginning to address it, with these hirings." Garcia said. "Not for one minute did these hirings have anything to do with politics. It was a question of fairness. We all operated in good faith and will continue to operate in good faith for our firefighters." All of the new recruits will now complete their training at the Bergen County Police and Fire Academy and will begin active duty in July, just in time for the department's heaviest vacation period. Overtime costs during the summer peak months are projected to cost nearly $2,500 per day. Having 14 additional firefighters on duty during that time will substantially reduce costs. "Having these new firefighters on duty this summer will increase fire safety during peak vacation periods and reduce overtime costs by more than $150,000 over the rest of the year," NHRFR Management Committee Chairman Robert Aiello said. "That's why it was so important to utilize the existing civil service lists while we wait for the state to certify our own agency list." From now on, any hirings will come from the one regional list. "It's a historic day," Sires said. "This group is the last to be hired from the West New York list, but the first from the North Hudson Regional list. And this is the first step. These are not the only hirings. There will be more. "Like anything else, we're experiencing some growing pains," Sires said. "Five to 10 years from now, everyone is going to forget the initial pains. These men should be rewarded, because they showed a lot of patience in waiting to be hired." Sires also liked that some of the hirings represented the continuing of a family tradition. New recruit Edward Banoff has become a third generation firefighter, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father. Banoff also has a brother currently serving the NHRFR, and new recruit Jason Hodge is the nephew of a deputy fire chief. "It's always good when you're able to keep with tradition," Sires said. "It's a great day for all those families." Garcia said that the hirings would only add to the increased services that the residents of Union City, West New York, North Bergen, Weehawken and Guttenberg have received since the regionalization went into effect. "One thing has remained constant," Garcia said. "We've always had more men on the job and more equipment responding to fire calls. It's been working well in terms of response time. Providing a great level of safety has always been a priority." Other than Banoff and Hodge, the new appointees include: Joseph Gobin, Joseph McLean, Luis Melendez, Brian Miller, Eduardo Valdivia, Manuel Arenal, Luis Bodega, Jaime Concepcion, Paul Lopez, Raul Mier, Henry Perez and Brent Ventura. Although the union admitted that the hirings should somewhat help to ease their pain, they feel that they are still some 20 firefighters short of what is required by national fire standards.