Committee Shelves Plan For Coordinated Emergency Services And Officially Dumps Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company

1. A Quick Contract With The New Fire Company.

After voting to dissolve the Fire District, Township Committee quickly completed its purge by firing the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company. Medford Farms was formed in 1941 and is Tabernacle’s oldest emergency service organization.

TAB 1 FIRE CO 3 days

The Committee replaced Medford Farms with Tabernacle Fire Company #1. At the meeting, Administrator Doug Cramer said that he expected that the new fire company would be under contract by Thursday, December 11, 2014. That’s a three-day turn around from the December 8 public meeting when the Committee voted to dissolve the District and fired Medford Farms.

2. The Committee’s Plan for Coordinated Emergency Services.

Based on the Committee’s abysmal and virtually non-existent investigation into Tabernacle’s fire protection needs and its repeated bashing of Medford Farms, it seems clear that the Committee’s plan was always to dissolve the Fire District and rid itself of certain members of the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company.

Of course, the Committee won’t admit this. Instead, it says it’s promoting a “…community service approach to fire services” and that fire services will be part of an “emergency services team” (Cramer Memorandum, November 21, 2014).

The Committee’s been working on this plan for over a year. They finalized it after the “thorough” report by Sub-committee members Lee and Brown. According to the Committee, the emergency services team approach isn’t just a casual change. It’s major, critical and necessary. Here’s how they described it in the Ordinance that dissolved the Fire District.

Whereas, the Township Committee recognizes a compelling public safety interest in coordinating the use of emergency personnel, assets, resources and equipment in the Township of Tabernacle.

Whereas the Committee finds that the efficient, proficient and effective delivery of emergency services requires cooperation and coordination by and between the volunteer fire and volunteer emergency medical and rescue service entities operating within the Township and the Tabernacle Office of Emergency Management (Ordinance 2014-8).

In order to bring about the “community services approach” the Committee submitted a proposed ordinance to the Local Finance Board as part of its June 16, 2014 application to dissolve the Fire District. The LFB ordinance had the exact same description of compelling public safety interests and the same need for cooperation as the ordinance the Committee adopted on December 8. The LFB ordinance also called for contracts with a volunteer fire company and the Tabernacle Rescue Squad. On November 24, the Committee was poised to introduce the ordinance to contract with both groups. But suddenly the Committee decided to only contract with a fire company.

3. The Committee Shelves Its Plan.

Somehow, the compelling need for public safety and cooperation that the Committee recognized as reasons to contract with both emergency providers no longer applied to the Tabernacle Rescue Squad. The Committee simply deleted the provisions that called for a contract with it (and the Office of Emergency Management).

Hey, Committee members, if you want us to believe that your plan really is about public safety and cooperation (and not about getting back at the Fire District and certain people in the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company), you should stick with your plan. Finish the job. You contracted with a new fire company in just three days. You’ve been working with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad for decades. Establishing a contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad should be pretty easy.

Committeeman Franzen said he would keep an open mind to the idea of contracting with the Rescue Squad. I should hope so. Franzen and the rest of the Committee voted for the idea when they submitted the application to the Local Finance Board. Mr. Franzen has no time frame for action. A contract within 20 years would seem to be fine with him. Deputy Mayor Steven Lee didn’t seem to understand the issue. Committeewoman Brown didn’t respond. Committeeman Yates acknowledged the plan for coordinated services and said:

[I]would like to…revisit this ordinance in the near future in the next month or two just so we can go over all emergency services and quite possibly incorporate into this ordinance even if we have to do it as a revision” [emphasis added] (Recording, December 8, 2014 Meeting).

As a service to readers and Committee members, TTJ has posted a management tool to track the time that it takes for the Committee to contract with the Tabernacle Rescue Squad. The counter begins on November 12, 2014, when the Local Finance Board approved the Township’s application to coordinate emergency services.

4. The Decision to Hire Tabernacle Volunteer Fire Company #1.

The Committee relied on a report by Township Administrator Doug Cramer who said that he separately met with the Executive Committees of both fire companies. Mr. Cramer had no notes from these meetings, much like the Lee-Brown Sub-committee, which also had no notes. Perhaps for this reason, Mr. Cramer’s report is short on data that shows meaningful comparisons of the two companies.

As pointed out by volunteer firefighter Ian McDowel, neither the Committee nor Mr. Cramer asked the most important question about the fire companies. They didn’t ask which company has the most people who do interior firefighting. The Committee should know how many firefighters actually put on an air pack and enter a burning building (see video at 1:22:00).

The company that has most of the younger firefighters who actually and regularly fight interior fires is Medford Farms, the company that the Committee fired.

The capabilities of the two companies can only be evaluated by knowing who does what. The Township should know what every member of each company typically does when there is a fire call. Some volunteers primarily drive fire trucks, some serve as fire police, others take photographs at the scene or aren’t certified firefighters at all. Some members respond more regularly than others for various reasons. Older members typically do less strenuous work and don’t do interior firefighting. The capabilities of the two fire companies were never analyzed or discussed. 

Instead of discussing capabilities, particularly, who fights the fires, Doug Cramer and the Committee focused on the size of the company. Their logic went like this. There are 42 members in the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company, but 10 won’t work for the Township. That leaves about 32. There are 32 members of Tabernacle Fire Company #1. Maybe more people will join Tabernacle Fire Company #1. Besides, we don’t want certain members of the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company.

There are plenty of other quirky parts to the Cramer Report. For example, Cramer wouldn’t say who he met with from each fire company. Why not? Probably because there are 21 mutual members of both companies, including the leadership. If he revealed that he met with largely the same people, that would show that, in reality, there aren’t two separate groups of people. It would also reveal which members had a conflict of interest because they represented both companies.

Another example is his conclusion that “the disadvantage of the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company is, by their own admission, that they are a divided company.” Was this said by the representatives of Tabernacle Fire Company #1 who are also members of Medford Farms?

More importantly, after all of this effort (yes, this includes the “thorough investigation and report”) and all of the Township Committee’s calls for “healing,” why hasn’t the Committee addressed the root causes of the division? Instead, the Township Committee prefers to let 25 percent of Medford Farms’s membership walk away when the number of volunteers who respond to fire calls has already decreased by 50 percent?

Another quirky conclusion in the Cramer report is that:

…the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company has been litigious in the past and given the current outside individual influences on the membership this method may be used again.

Really?! Describing volunteers as “litigious” for having filed one lawsuit in the 73-year history of the company is a wild misuse of the word. It shows, yet again, that the Township is not interested in healing. Had this Committee really been interested in healing, it would have mediated Medford Farms’s grievance. Then, there wouldn’t have been any lawsuit.

Because the reasons for the dissolution of the Fire District and the firing of Medford Farms have been so poorly justified, it’s also hard to overlook the financial windfall that the Township gets from dissolving the District. The Township will receive over $400,000 from the Fire District. This money will go into the general fund and can be used for any public purpose. It’s not dedicated to fire protection.

Citizens at the meeting wanted assurance that the taxes they paid to the District for fire services would be spent on fire services. It’s hard to imagine that the Committee hasn’t considered this because they submitted all of the District budget information to the Local Finance Board six months ago. But the Committee was evasive and made no commitments. Franzen and Lee implied that they would use the money for fire purposes.

So far, this Committee has earned poor grades in honoring its plans and commitment to the community service approach for emergency services. Nonetheless, our Township officials should seize this opportunity to be open and straight forward about how they plan to use the money.