SADDLE RIVER - The mayor of Saddle River is scrambling to fill positions in the town's fire department, including the vacancies of two fire chiefs who recently resigned.
In letters to Mayor Samuel Raia, the former fire chiefs said the department is dangerously understaffed and that public safety is at risk.
"Of course we have concerns about our safety," says Tracy Slayne. "If there is no one over there, if something happens, there could be a lot of people injured."
In the letters, the former chiefs say Saddle River responds to emergencies with "one or two firefighters, usually well after 10-20 minutes of initial dispatch, if at all." They also say an "alarming number of calls go unanswered," missing up to "40 percent of our call volume."
But not everyone is worried. "I have confidence that city government will figure out how to handle it," says John Bishop
Fire departments from nearby towns are being asked to pick up the slack, but the former chiefs say that's not happening either. They say departments from Allendale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Waldwick and Upper Saddle River all declined to participate in a mutual aid agreement.
Mayor Raia disputes that the agreement was declined and many of the other charges in the former chiefs' letters. But he does admit that finding volunteers is a challenge.
"We have to think outside the box, because the standard way of manning a fire department in this area just won't work anymore," says Raia.
The mayor has introduced a new plan that includes paying off-duty firefighters from other towns to cover overnight shifts, when volunteers are scarce. He's also proposing a shared countywide fire department as a long-term solution.