WILDWOOD - Firefighters attended the Wildwood Board of Commissioners’ meeting Feb. 12 to address a resolution to apply for a state grant to conduct a study, which would look into the feasibility of Wildwood combining paid fire and emergency medical services (EMS) with North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.
The resolution was approved by the commissioners.
“We were kind of surprised because things are happening quickly. I have some concerns as to why they’re happening as quickly as they are,” Wildwood Deputy Fire Chief Ernie Troiano III, in charge of the department on an interim basis, told the Herald. “There are some other factors being played into this, as to why things are being pushed so rapidly.”
Troiano declined to comment further on what those factors are, in a phone interview. “We have quite a few questions that we would like answers to before we proceed any further,” he said.
“The point of shared services is to save money, but we don’t want to save money at the expense of compromising services for everything that these guys have worked toward,” said Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron, at the meeting, referencing the dozen or more firefighters who were present.
“The department has worked too hard to get to where we are to take a backseat to anyone,” Troiano said.
Troiano added he doesn’t fear shared services would mean layoffs within Wildwood’s department.
“I trust our administration. They know what we bring to the table. I don’t feel like that’s their intent,” he said. “I don’t believe our administration is looking to cut membership or manpower because they know we don’t have the (volunteer) support system we had in years past.”
Ryan Troiano, a Wildwood firefighter, and president of the Wildwood Firefighters FMBA Local 50, spoke during public comment. He said he was caught off guard when members from other unions asked him why the merger was being propositioned in Wildwood, and who was pushing for it.
“We had our state FMBA convention and, no lie, 25 to 30 people in our state union, from up north, down, were questioning everything. ‘Yo, Ryan, what’s this merger talk,’ and I’m sitting there being the president of our union, being in the merger, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know,’” said Ryan Troiano, Ernie Troiano III’s brother.
Wildwood and North Wildwood have paid fire and EMS, while Wildwood Crest has a volunteer fire department, and paid EMS.
“We haven’t had any knowledge of anything that’s going on moving forward with this,” Ryan Troiano said. “We found out about it late in the game.”
One of the unanswered questions is who would be in charge if an agreement were to occur.
“That’s one of the questions that need to be discussed,” Ernie Troiano III said.
Ryan Troiano said he was on the phone with Byron for about an hour before the meeting, and appreciates the mayor’s open-door policy. Byron opened the floor for early public comment before he and Commissioner Krista Fitzsimons voted on the resolution. Commissioner Steven Mikulski was absent.
“None of us are opposed to any sort of shared service. None of us are opposed to giving back,” Ryan Troiano said. “My concern is that the way things are done here isn’t exactly done (in North Wildwood).”
“You’re not going to get any argument from Krista, myself, or Steve, if he was here, who the best fire department is in all of Cape May County. There’s no question about that,” said Byron.
“In New Jersey,” replied Ryan Troiano.
Troiano said he was alarmed that when speaking to North Wildwood firefighters, they told him that their mayor, Patrick Rosenello, didn’t offer much in the form of an explanation for why the study was being done.
Byron said, after the meeting, that he owes it to the taxpayers to do the study, and see if there is a way to save money by consolidating the different departments across the island, without sacrificing the quality Wildwood has.
“It wouldn’t even be lateral. If it can’t take a step forward, there would be no sense for us,” Byron said. “If we thought, for a second, there was something here to try to undermine what you guys spent 100 years building, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
The study would look into sharing paid services only.
“I think the study is a waste only because I don’t think it is being done correctly,” said Ernie Troiano III. “Our department has worked very hard, over the years, to get where we are at, and to get as competent as we are, and as well trained as we are, and the manpower and staffing levels to potentially take a back seat or whatever the case may be. If we’re going to proceed with this, it needs to be equal say across the board. It needs to be equal input across the board.”
Might it make sense to combine these services on a relatively small island?
“We are for a shared service agreement. Nobody, from the deputy chief down, would disagree with that, but when you’re doing it, we ask that it be done right,” said Ryan Troiano. “Our concern is never here or with our guys, our concern is outside of here and the direction and motives of what is being done.”
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