In August, Gov. Chris Christie received a warm welcome at the annual firefighters convention in Wildwood. The standing applause was a stark contrast to the boos he was greeted with two years ago in the midst of sweeping pension changes affecting public employees. But it appears as if the governor hasn’t completely mended fences with the state’s firefighters. In an interview with Managing Editor Mike Schneider, Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, took the governor to task on his treatment of the state’s firefighters.
When asked about the friendly reception at the August convention, Marino, who was not in attendance, didn’t have an exact explanation for the standing ovation. “I’m sure out of respect, the members in attendance rose because of the position he’s in, gave him a welcome of some sort,” said Marino.
According to Marino. it’s not just the pension that’s causing the rift between the governor and the Professional Firefighters Association, which represents about 3,300 members.
“He states emphatically, time and time again, that he has more than enough, he doesn’t want anymore, [says] we get paid too much, our compensation levels are too high.”
The governor wants to reduce the number of firefighters throughout the state which will consequently jeopardize public safety, said Marino. “A lot of municipalities are no longer keeping their staffing levels … at the adequate number to safely and adequately bring incidents to a safe remedy.”
In his remarks in Wildwood, Christie said two years ago the state pension fund was at 51 percent, and today it’s funded at 60 percent. Marino said Christie’s numbers are misleading because he is lumping firefighters’ pension with the whole public pension system.
“Our system has historically been better than most of the other systems because as firefighters we pay 8.5 percent into our pension system and have never taken any time off,” Marino explained. “We have consistently year after year, month after month put in our 8.5 percent into the pension system whereas the municipalities and the state stopped for almost 10 years.”
The conflict with Gov. Christie is not a partisan issue, said Marino. “It doesn’t matter if you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ or an ‘I’ after your name. If you’re loyal and support firefighters, then we’re going to support you.”
Asked whether firefighters had been betrayed by previous administrations, Marino wasn’t looking back in pointing fingers.
“I think we’ve been betrayed by this governor right now by what he’s done to the pension system and what he’s done to the compensation that firefighter are not able to attain at this time.”