Ship Bottom Mayor Satisfied with Volunteer Fire Company Relationship

Mar 06, 2019

Borough officials are forging a new relationship with the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. administration after adopting an ordinance recently that gave them limited control, if needed, over the century-old company.

“We have a good rapport at this point,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck said. The two sides met Feb. 28, two days after the council unanimously approved the measure. The meeting was already on the calendar prior to the vote. “We ironed out some details of things they need to do.”

Among those things, according to the mayor, is to provide appropriate forms to the borough.

“We’re on an even playing field,” Huelsenbeck said. “We worked it out.”

It’s unclear about what needed to be worked out, other than the timeliness of paperwork the borough needs to process LOSAP and other financial matters. Those were some of the concerns the mayor discussed during the lengthy question and answer public hearing on Ordinance 2019-03. For their part, fire company members’ concerns included having active members participate in at least 40 percent of fire duty, which encompasses responding to fires and attending drills; verbiage surrounding civil rights impingement and how and when a member could be dismissed.

Christopher J. Connors, borough attorney, said Feb. 26 the ordinance does two things: It guarantees members of the fire company don’t have criminal records and do have clean driving records.

“That’s it all it does. It doesn’t take over the fire company,” he said, adding the measure is consistent with similar ordinances in other communities throughout the state and with the fire company’s own bylaws. “It’s not a shot at how the fire company is operated.”

In fact, N.J.S.A. 40A:14-68(a), which permits the governing body of a municipality that does not have a paid or partially paid fire department to, by ordinance, contract with a volunteer fire company or companies within its borders for the purpose of extinguishing fires, prohibits town officials from interfering in the day-to-day operations of the fire company, according to Connors.

Still, the seeming suddenness of the ordinance, which was introduced on first reading in January, left several members of the fire company feeling as though the contract between the borough and the fire company, which exists solely as a result of the ordinance, is one-sided.

In asking the council to strike the ordinance down, Doug White, a past fire chief and current fire company president, noted the long history that exists between the entities.

“It’s an interesting time that we’re working together,” he said, noting some of the bigger changes in the borough and across the Island. Those changes included but are not limited to Hotel LBI, a 100-plus room luxury resort at the entrance to LBI; the condo complex at the Causeway Circle; and larger homes replacing small beach cottages or Cape Cod-style homes.

Scott Peraria, a former borough resident who now lives in Stafford Township but is an active member of the fire company, said he often asks himself why at 58 he does what he does.

“We sacrifice with no gain,” he said. “We do it for the love of the people we serve.”

Peraria, whose business is located in Ship Bottom, said when his daughter asked him to rejoin the fire company, he agreed because he spends so much time on the Island and in the community.

A request for comment from Fire Chief Todd MacLennan had gone unanswered as of press deadline.

— Gina G. Scala


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