Tabernacle Not Interested In Improving Relations Between Rescue Squad And Fire Company

At the August 24, 2020 meeting, the committee refused to establish basic standards for professional behavior between the Tabernacle Rescue Squad (TRS) and the Tabernacle Fire Company #1 (TFC1). This was unfortunate because bickering and fighting between the companies has been a regrettable hallmark of their working relationship. This was a lost opportunity to improve the relationship. But the committee yawned instead.

The committee didn’t establish any standards because, in this instance, it would’ve required criticizing the TRS. Had it required criticizing the TFC1, the committee probably would have seized the moment. Remember the committee’s zeal to give the fire company a termination notice in order to pressure TFC1 to revise its contract?

Ironically, the part of the contract that bothered the committee concerned an item that the committee botched. It forgot to require that the fire company take rescue training from the TRS. Then the committee got upset with the TFC1 for following the contract.

But when it’s the TRS that’s acting badly, the committee usually says, “that’s ok with us” and walks away.

What the August 24, meeting concerned is a March 28, 2020 TRS Post that showed abysmally little cooperation, teamwork and professionalism. This was a ready-made, low-cost opportunity for the committee to tell both companies that their job includes active cooperation and professionalism, just like it says in their contracts. This is not a high bar for the committee to require.

The TRS post concerned a fire at the Dunkin Donuts on Route 206. TFC1 also posted about the fire. The TFC1 praised every participating company by name, including the TRS. The TRS didn’t mention the TFC1 and implied that it didn’t even show up.

Here are the two posts. It’s not hard to pick out the cooperative and professional one.

TRS:

At approximately 4am, Tabernacle Rescue Squad was dispatched as part of Task Force 43 for a building fire in the township. Chief 4390, Rehab 4398, & Ambulances 4391, 92, and 94 responded to provided (sic) rehab and medical coverage while numerous mutual aid companies extinguished the fire.

TFC1:

Thanks to all those companies who assisted us this morning. I appreciate all of your work. Your strong work in the early hours of the morning prevented any additional loss of property after the fire company arrived. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and those who have had their business disrupted. Special thanks to Evergreen Dairy Bar for donating breakfast sandwiches to the first responders at the scene and to TRS for picking them up and distributing them. Also to Upper Crust for dropping of[f] pizza to the fire house after the call. Two awesome area businesses. Sorry if I missed any stations.

The fact that TRS wouldn’t mention that TFC1 was instrumental in extinguishing the fire isn’t just bad manners, it’s a real problem.

Cooperation and professionalism between the rescue squad and the fire company are basic requirements for the effective delivery of emergency services. They are key elements of Tabernacle’s plan for the delivery of those services. The TRS statement also diminishes public confidence in the TFC1, falsely implying that the fire company didn’t show up for the Dunkin Donuts fire and may not show up for other fires.

The committee rationalized that the TRS’s Post was okay. Committeeman Barton, Moore and Brown said that the Post mentioned Task Force 43; and Task Force 43 includes Tabernacle Fire Company; so TRS actually acknowledged TFC1.

That’s a ridiculous statement. Praise, like criticism, is effective when it’s direct. Three degrees of separation is way too much. Good teammates and task force-mates give credit where credit is due.

For Committeeman Moore, it was significant that “Task Force 43” is painted on a TFC1 engine. That visibility, he said, allows everyone to know that TFC1 is part of Task force 43.

That visibility is way overstated. Their probably aren’t 150 people in Tabernacle who’ve ever heard of Task Force 43. And almost all of them are members of the TRS and TFC1, rather than members of the general public.

Except for the lettering on the fire truck, Task Force 43 is invisible. There’s no sign for it at the building or grounds of the Emergency Services Building (the TRS’s home). There’s also no sign for it at the fire station building or grounds either.

The township does have a sign for the Medford Farms Volunteer Fire Company (MFVFC) at the fire station garage. That company used to be the oldest volunteer organization in Tabernacle. But the township committee replaced the MFVFC with the TFC1 in 2014.

The fact that the township still signs for a fire company it got rid of six years ago but doesn’t sign for the existing Task Force 43, tells the world that Task Force 43 isn’t a significant item in Tabernacle, regardless of the lettering on the fire engine.

In practice, Task Force 43 is a dispatching convenience. Burlington County Central Communications simply dispatches Task Force 43 instead of separately dispatching TFC1 and the TRS.

Task Force 43 certainly isn’t an organization for centralized delivery of emergency services that the committee said it would establish when it dissolved the Tabernacle Fire District.

For those few, well-informed Tabernacle citizens who actually know that TFC1 is a member of Task Force 43, none would know from the TRS post that TFC1 actually responded to the Dunkin Donuts fire and was instrumental in extinguishing it. That’s the problem that the committee closed its eyes to.

The TRS Post says only “Tabernacle Rescue Squad was dispatched as part of Task Force 43…” and “mutual aid companies extinguished the fire.”

Committeeman Joseph Barton also tried to explain that the TRS Post was the ordinary language of dispatchers that everyone uses in the business. It was nothing to be bothered about. He said this was based on his 40 years of experience in the electric utility business with PSE&G.

I know that there are similarities between emergency medical responses and the emergency responses by utility crews restoring power after a storm. But excusing the TRS’s Post as typical utility company behavior is false.

Utility companies speak inclusively to assure their rate payers and their state regulators that they can handle all emergencies, even when the emergency is too big for their own crews. They speak in plain language so that this message is clear.

Here’s a headline from the newsroom of Exelon, a major utility that coincidentally, owns Atlantic City Electric. It’s a typical headline from a utility company about the restoration of power after a storm.

PECO, Delmarva Power and Pepco crews shared best practices to deal with wind storm restoration.

Not surprisingly, the three participating companies are individually named and described in a positive light; they “shared best practices.”

The rest of the press release shows the same cooperative attitude with more detail. Again, individual companies are named and individually praised for their participation and teamwork.

This new partnership was put to the test in early April, when wind storms with gusts in excess of 55 mph hit parts of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. Crews from PECO, Exelon’s utility in Pennsylvania, quickly went to work restoring power to affected customers and for the first time called upon two of its new Pepco Holdings sister utilities for help – Pepco and Delmarva Power.

Utility companies don’t speak “dispatch” to the public. They give credit where credit is due, especially to sister companies. I can anticipate that Mr. Barton might say:

Yeah, but those companies are all part of Exelon. It’s in Exelon’s interest to have its companies cooperate with each other and praise each other for it.

That’s the point, Mr. Barton. TRS and TFC1 are both part of the same team. They’re both responsible to deliver emergency services in Tabernacle and they’re both part of Task Force 43. They are very much like sister utilities. They should be speaking publicly in the same professional and complementary way the sister utilities in the statements above.

It’s in Tabernacle’s interest to have the TRS and the TFC1 cooperate with each other and tell us when they do a good job. Suggesting that your sister agency didn’t show up, when they actually did, is anti-teamwork and unprofessional. The committee should not accept it.

Mr. Barton’s other excuse for the TRS Post was that it follows the dispatch sheet. That’s false and another rationalization. The TRS didn’t just recite the dispatch call data. It modified the call data to present its own point of view.

The TRS has a sophisticated communications program. It writes so many posts that it’s jokingly said they write about every squirrel that gets stuck in a tree. The TRS knows what it’s saying.

The problem is that TRS decided not to say that TRS and TFC1 are both on Tabernacle’s team or that TFC1 did a good job at the Dunkin Donuts fire. This omission says that, in the TRS’s view, the TFC1 isn’t a valued team member.

The committee’s public acceptance of the TRS’s view shows its lack of concern that the two companies show respect towards each other.

Most people would agree that teamwork, cooperation and trust are ordinary workplace values. Even in Tabernacle, the township displays a photograph of its employees on its website. Underneath is the statement: “A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trusts each other.”

These values are even more important in the context of emergency services. Those people have to make fast decisions that have life and death consequences. Cooperation, respect and teamwork should be automatic.

Unfortunately, these values aren’t important parts of the TRS’s culture as it relates to the fire company. The author of the TRS Post had no problem leaving out the name of the TFC1 and failing to mention that TFC1 responded to the fire and was instrumental in extinguishing it. The Post-writer’s captain didn’t see this omission as a mistake. Neither did Chief Jackson.

The attitudes expressed by this Post aren’t new. In 2017, the TRS bypassed TFC1 – it’s Task Force 43 partner – and arranged for the Evesham Fire-Rescue to cover the Township while the TRS was busy with its awards banquet. TFC1’s Chief publicly raised this to the committee. Then, just as now, the committee accepted the TRS’s behavior and did nothing.

Whatever TRS does is fine by the township committee.

At this point it’s surprising that some committee members still wonder why the relationship between the TRS and the TFC1 isn’t better. The answer is obvious. Because the committee doesn’t demand cooperative behavior from the TRS, it doesn’t get cooperative behavior from the TRS.

I’m not naive enough to think that the Committee can waive its magic gavel and the spirit of kumbaya will descend upon Task Force 43. But management starts at the top. Our committee won’t hire someone to manage emergency services (it forced the public safety director to resign), and it leaves contract administration to Township Administrator Doug Cramer who’s not independent. He’s TRS captain Stephen Cramer ‘s father.

Because there is no independent management, and the committee has abdicated its control, the TRS has no reason to act professionally towards the TFC1. It won’t be long before the TRS takes over the delivery of fire services.

Question Corner

“Question Corner” is a new TTJ feature where I’ll present some of the questions that the committee avoided. I’m starting it because the mayor and committee have stopped addressing almost all public questions. “Question Corner” is a place where you can see what they’re avoiding.

Tabernacle has two public comment sections; one for agenda items only, the other for public comment on any other issue or topic. In Tabernacle, the public comment sections now are the place where resident’s thoughts, questions and comments largely go to die.

At the August 24, 2020 meeting, the committee ignored every question except those about the TRS Post. And, in order to get questions about the TRS Post addressed, my husband and I had to offer comments at three consecutive meetings and send a detailed letter to the entire committee.

When Kim Brown was appointed mayor in January, 2020, she changed the placement of the second public comment section, explaining that this was necessary so that committee members could take notes and “so that a response can be provided to public comments during that time.”

Mayor Brown’s reasoning made no sense because the committee can take notes and respond to public comments regardless of the agenda order. But her commitment to respond to residents’ comments was important.

The effect of Mayor Brown’s change is to prevent public questions and comments on any committee and professional report. Also, the public can’t comment on the business that the committee acts on in these sections of the agenda. Mayor Brown initially said that the committee wouldn’t do business in the reports section of the agenda. She’s also broken that promise.

Here are some of the questions that the committee avoided at the August 24, 2020 meeting.

1. Why did Tabernacle pay $200 for Rodney Haines, our part-time CFO, to attend a CFO webinar, when Little Egg Harbor Township, his full-time employer, is required by contract to pay for his CFO training, seminars and classes?

2. Are you going to revise the training policies for part-time employees?

3. At the last meeting Committeewoman McGinnis said she spoke with the New Jersey Division of Community Affairs (NJDCA) and was told it was okay to call “around the horn” to other committee members to discuss township business. In the context of local government, this means calling committee members one by one to conduct public business, rather than discussing public business at a township meeting. Mr. Lange said he would call NJDCA for clarification. Mr. Lange, are you going to advise the committee and report your findings in public tonight?

4. What’s the purpose of your requirement that TRS – and only TRS – provides rescue training to fire?

5. Why is the County’s rescue training unacceptable to Tabernacle when it’s provided countywide and we’ve adopted the county mutual aid contract?

6. We’ve heard there’s been a case where Fire responded to an accident and had the only piece of equipment on the scene, but it was told to stand down by a TRS officer until the TRS equipment arrived. Some of you surely know about this or should. This is a tragedy waiting to happen. What’s being done to correct this?

The next township meeting will be held at town hall September 14, 2020 at 7:30 PM.
Unfortunately, I had technical difficulties loading the video of the August 24, 2020 township meeting. However, it can be viewed on YouTube.