By Christie Duffy
Look inside Holmdel’s Fire Company 1. It’s empty. The trucks? Taken. The company. Shuttered. Who took the fire trucks? Firefighters pointed at police and town employees.
“The fire chief was called into a 2014 budget meeting at the same time the police were here removing our trucks,” said President of Fire Company 1 Doug Ziemba Jr.
Apparently this was all planned. Outraged volunteers and residents say they were blindsided.
“Like a stealth movement. They moved in, they watched the building ahead of time. They waited for the chief to leave,” said Paul Fazio.
“The way the police came and took their fire truck away is insulting,” said Karen Strickland.
Town committee members engineered the surprising maneuver, that it’s part of a grand reorganization.
“Do you think it’s a bit inflammatory to just go in and take them and not give them any notice?” asked Holmdel Township Emergency Services Chair Greg Buontempo.
The plan was put in place to improve efficiencies in fire protection for the entire township.
He says the committee’s reorganizing the fire department to save money and shorten response time. And he says the committee had the authority to act, even before it voted on the plan. That made volunteer firefighters hot under the collar.
“My boys spend so much time volunteering. They’ll drop whatever they’re doing at a moments notice when the tones go out. And now they don’t even have working radios. The town shut off their radios and are not dispatching Fire Company 1 to any incidents,” Fazio said.
So where’s the missing fire truck? We found one parked inside a crowded storage shed — on private property that belongs to Vonage. It’s a scant 100 yards away from its original garage at Company One, but it’s still in service.
Why move into a Vonage building when you have a 100-year-old fire company in a historic part of town on Main Street? “It was a great location. We were concerned that some of the response times weren’t being met,” said Buontempo.
He says a mailer introducing the reorganization did go out to residents, although some say they never got it. The plan expands Holmdel’s fire houses from two to three, putting all properties in town within 2.5 miles from the nearest fire house. The new central fire station would be at town hall. And for the first time, be staffed overnight.
Buontempo says Fire Company No. 1 members are welcome to continue their volunteer service. A public hearing on this issue will be held on April 29 and that is when the committee will vote on whether or not to make this plan permanent.