The NHRFR's Management Board of Directors authorized the hiring, filling the positions left vacant by retirees and two firefighters who resigned to return to their former jobs as police officers.
NHRFR Co-Director Jeff Welz said that the new firefighters will be hired as part of the regional list that was formed last year by the state Department of Personnel. The hiring will be the second one from the list.
In the past, all hiring came from existing lists in each of the five towns whose departments came together to form the Regional. However, the state established a new list based on scores on a written test. Bilingual candidates get extra points. Use of this list prevents any discrepancies in starting salaries from one town to the next.
"We're using the same list that we used when we hired the 22 firefighters last May," Welz said. "We're now just going further down the list and taking the next 15. It's a highly competitive test that several thousand candidates took. They will be hired under the proposed model contract, with benefits and salary."
The starting salary is expected to be $25,000.
Welz said that the Regional is hopeful that the hiring process will be completed by next month to be able to send the recruits to the Bergen County Fire Academy. Then, the firefighters will be ready for active duty when the regular members schedule their vacations in May.
Once the recruits pass physicals and clear psychological and criminal background checks, they will be enrolled in mandated training classes before they start work.
The hiring should boost the Regional's manpower to 310 firefighters, close to the number that was recommended by a consulting firm when the regionalization plan was adopted in January of 1999.
The hiring will also enable the NHRFR to promote more members to the rank of Fire Officer One. This position was created to account for discrepancies in superiors' ranks between different towns.
Meanwhile, the NHRFR firefighters and supervisors are still working on contracts with the management. The firefighters have been working without contracts for more than two years, trying to finalize the first-ever Regional contract. A state-appointed arbitrator, James Mastriani, has not yet offered his recommendations on the contracts. Mastriani told NHRFR officials that he would have a decision by the Christmas holidays.
"We've been told that a decision is pending, but we've been waiting several months," said Welz. "Once the arbitrator makes his ruling, then we will have a salary structure in place. We hope to have a contract by the time the new fire officers are promoted."
The contract squabble makes it tougher for officials to approve and process vacation requests. With a uniform contract in place, there will be one set of regulations for every NHRFR member to follow.
The NHRFR management board also agreed to reappoint Robert Aiello as the NHRFR chairman for 2002. Aiello is a retired West New York fire chief.