In light of a recent email circulating, Hoboken officials are indicating that there are no immediate plans to merge their fire department with Jersey City.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“I’m gonna ask a very point blank question here: are we in any, way, shape or form discussing any reorganization with any other fire departments?” Hoboken 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo asked at the Public Safety Department budget hearing one week ago.
Public Safety Director Kenneth Ferrante acknowledged that there were conversations with Jersey City around this time last year and two possibilities were discussed.
“We had talks last year from March through May, the last meeting was May 24th. There was a discussion of two possible things: one is called an auto aid, a mutual aid system where the Jersey City Fire Department would be able to respond directly to fires in the south end of Hoboken. Hoboken would be able to respond to the Newport area and Jersey City Heights without the need to follow mutual aid, the current guideline,” he explained.
“Right now, for us to get North Hudson or Jersey City Fire Department in, every single firefighter that’s working for the City of Hoboken, which is usually 20 to 23, have to be on scene … If we have an auto aid system, we would be able to increase that number exponentially on first and second alarms.”
He continued that a full merger had been entertained between Hoboken command staff and union leadership in Jersey City, but reiterated that their hasn’t been a meeting on that topic since May 24th, 2022.
Furthermore, Ferrante, a former Hoboken police chief, said that a mutual aid system would need to have a trial run “for a couple years” before a full merger could receive serious consideration.
He also said a “metropolis” planned to be built over NJ Transit train tracks in Hoboken could lead to an influx of 5,000 to 10,000 new residents in the next five to 10 years and that development led to the initial conversations with Jersey City.
Russo said that he was against a full merger, since he wanted the Hoboken Fire Department to maintain their autonomy, which Ferrante said they would under an auto aid scenario – which would also allow up to 50 to 60 firefighters to response to a single blaze at once.
“You all have to think about when that metropolis, I call it a metropolis, that will be built along Observer Highway, those are Hoboken buildings: we cannot sustain that unless you add $4 million in salaries to the fire [department], which is $3 to $4 million added to the taxpayers of Hoboken,” Ferrante added.
The city councils in Hoboken and Jersey City would also have to approve a mutual aid agreement via resolution in order for such a plan to move forward, according to Ferrante.
“It’s baby steps: we are years away from any further talks of a merger.”
Ferrante also pointed out that a public safety complex to house their police and fire departments, along with EMS and 911 dispatch, all in one state-of-the-art complex was still a goal they were working towards.
While the concept of public safety complex was highlighted in Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s State of the City Address last year, that idea fell to the wayside when the administration upped the ante with a $192.5 million municipal complex that never had the votes to get off the ground.
“While the City of Hoboken is agreeable to resuming these conversations as we explore ways to continue to protect the public while reducing costs to the Hoboken taxpayers, no agreement will be made without input from our trusted fire department members and their unions,” Hoboken public safety spokeswoman said in an email.
“Director Ferrante and Business Administrator Jason Freeman will be meeting with the Hoboken Fire Department later this week, to address recent emails between Jersey City firefighters and their union heads.”
A Jersey City spokeswoman did not return an inquiry seeking comment, but the email Rubin referenced was obtained by HCV over the weekend.
In that message, Jersey City Fire Officers Local 1064 President Peter Nowak said he and Jersey City Firefighters Local 1066 President Joseph Krajnik are “dead set against the city’s plan.”
The email, which went out after a roughly 90-minute meeting with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and his “executive staff,” says that his understanding is that the JCFD would be taking over the Hoboken FD, as opposed to a merger or consolidation.
Furthermore, Hoboken would be treated as Jersey City’s 5th battalion, while “Jersey City will gain fire protection on the Northeast side of the city.”
He also indicates that there will be no structural changes to the JCFD, that Hoboken must upgrade staffing and equipment, as well as that upcoming meetings with the Hoboken and Jersey City firefighter unions are planned.