RELEASE: Gottheimer, Local Firefighters Urge Hackensack City Council to Accept Major Federal Grant for Firefighter Staffing

City Council Currently Plans to Turn Down Grant. Gottheimer Helped Claw Back $2.4 Million to Hire 12 Firefighters, Protect Families, Lower Property Taxes.

 

Above: Gottheimer with local firefighters in Hackensack today.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, November 14, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined together with local firefighters and elected officials to strongly encourage the Hackensack City Council to reconsider their decision to turn down the nearly $2.4 million dollar federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant that Gottheimer helped claw from Washington back to Jersey. Gottheimer called on the City Council to accept the grant to hire twelve new firefighters to better protect Hackensack families and save taxpayers on their property tax bills.

According to the Hackensack Fire Department, over the course of three years there will be upwards of 20 currently-employed firefighters who will be ready to retire. The Department averages four retiring firefighters a year. The Hackensack Fire Department provides mutual aid to Englewood, Teaneck, Ridgefield Park, South Hackensack, New Milford, Maywood, Bergenfield, Rochelle Park, and Little Ferry, as well as Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) support statewide and air truck support county-wide.

The Hackensack City Council has until November 19, 2022 to accept the federal grant.

The nearly $2.4 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant that Gottheimer helped claw back to North Jersey will:

  • Help hire 12 new Hackensack firefighters and pay for their salaries for three years. Over the course of three years, there will be upwards of twenty firefighters who will retire and the Department averages four retiring firefighters a year.
  • Ensure that Hackensack’s Fire Department grows as the city continues to develop with new high-rises, hospitals, and more. A September 2022 report called for the City to consider increasing the Fire Department’s response capabilities.
  • Save taxpayers on their property tax bills. Instead of hiring 12 new firefighters on the City’s dime with local property taxes — something the City will have to do as the city expands and firefighters retire — these federal tax dollars can be used instead. 
  • Help the City of Hackensack save money by having more firefighters, rather than paying overtime.

“We’re here today to strongly encourage the Hackensack City Council to reconsider their decision, accept the nearly $2.4 million dollar federal SAFER grant we’ve clawed from Washington back to Jersey, hire the new firefighters to better protect Hackensack families, and save taxpayers on their property tax bill,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), a member of the bipartisan Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “Please don’t turn down the opportunity to actually get the backs of our first responders, and ensure this department is adequately staffed. Please don’t turn down the opportunity to help lower property taxes here. Please don’t defund this fire department. I stand ready to help the Council in any way possible, so Northern New Jersey doesn’t miss this critical opportunity. The City Council has just five days left to accept the grant. Five days left to invest in our first responders. Five days to help keep residents here even safer.”

“They wrote out the grant application and submitted knowing that they were applying for this money. And then all of a sudden to turn around and to change course and say we're not going to  accept it is totally unacceptable to the people of Hackensack, but more so to the firefighters that are standing behind me,” said Bergen County Executive and volunteer firefighter Jim Tedesco. “Here we have a Congressman that fights for grants. Gets grants. And now we're going to have a group of elected officials turn down millions of dollars that is going to be spent to protect the thousands of people that live here — not right.”

“When I got the phone call a couple weeks ago that the city of Hackensack is considering not accepting this grant — I thought I heard it wrong. It’s just not something that happens,” said Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ) President Steve McConlogue. “Congressman Gottheimer has always been there for firefighters. Congressman, I just want to thank you once again. It means a lot that you came out and stood up with our brothers and sisters.”

Gottheimer was joined by Bergen County Executive and volunteer firefighter James Tedesco, IAFF 3172 President and Superior Officer Association member Captain John Haynes, Firefighter and Hackensack Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2081 member Justin Mignogna, PFANJ President Steve McConlogue, and the Hackensack Fire Department and first responders.

Gottheimer’s work to support North Jersey’s first responders and their families includes the following:

  • Gottheimer was an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which was signed into law. Gottheimer also voted to increase investment in the Firefighter Cancer Registry, and urge the CDC to maximize firefighter participation. 
  • Gottheimer was an original cosponsor of the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act to provide veteran firefighters with the fair compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits they’ve earned through their service.
  • Gottheimer fought for the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes Act, which became law, to permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Gottheimer was an original cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation and the Problem Solvers Caucus, Co-Chaired by Gottheimer, endorsed the bill and called for swift floor passage with bipartisan support.
  • Gottheimer helped pass the bipartisan Federal Firefighters Fair Act through the House of Representatives — legislation he cosponsored — guaranteeing our firefighters have access to critical disability and retirement benefits they deserve after putting their lives on the line for us.
  • Since 2016, Gottheimer has helped claw back $6.9 million dollars to the Fifth District in Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) for life-saving firefighting equipment.

Video of the press conference can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer with Hackensack firefighters.

 

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
Thank you to the Hackensack Fire Department for welcoming me back to Hackensack, for your bravery and for your excellent leadership, and for working with me and my team to help claw our federal tax dollars back to Hackensack to protect lives and help save our taxpayers money.
 
Thank you to the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Professional Firefighters of New Jersey for all you do in our state, and more than anything, thank you to our brave first responders here today for everything you do to keep Jersey safe.
 
One of my very first actions when I first got to Congress was to join the bipartisan Congressional Fire Services Caucus. And I’ve been proud to fight for legislation that supports our first responders, including the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, the Never Forget the Heroes Act to permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, and the Protecting America’s First Responders Act. 
 
As I have said since day one, we must always stand by those who stand by us. We must always get the backs of those who protect our communities, who make us safer, who make our neighborhoods, like here in Hackensack, the places we want to live, raise our families, and do business.
 
They put their lives on the line for us each and every day — rushing to the scene of a fire, accident, or threat of terror against our homeland. In fact, nationwide, we’ve already lost 196 members of law enforcement and 83 firefighters in the line of duty this year. That includes two police officers and four firefighters from here in Jersey.
 
We’ll also always remember the impact the September 11th attacks had on North Jersey, especially here in Hackensack. In the past two years, this Department lost a firefighter to 9/11-linked cancer. And they just had another member retire this year from 9/11-linked cancer.
 
Here in Hackensack, the Fire Department doesn’t just help their own city — they also provide mutual aid to Englewood, Teaneck, Ridgefield Park, South Hackensack, New Milford, Maywood, Bergenfield, Rochelle Park, and Little Ferry, as well as Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) support statewide and air truck support county-wide.
 
The Fire Department here runs into fires and dangerous emergencies when others run out — like when they saved the lives of more than 14 residents who were rescued from their cars after the massive storm and flood last July, or when a vehicle was struck by an NJ Transit train at a railroad crossing here last month, or responding to a second alarm fire in Little Ferry just two nights ago.
 
Our first responders can’t protect us without the resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. It’s why year in and year out we have fought so hard for our communities’ applications for critical grants from the AFG program, the COPS grant, the SAFER grant, the LESO program, and other key initiatives to make sure our towns, police, and fire departments have what they need to protect our citizens. And, they help save our taxpayers by clawing dollars back from Washington. 
 
Today, we’re here to help ensure the fire department here has the resources they need to protect the lives of residents and to fight to save Hackensack families on their property taxes. Last month, thanks to the leadership of the Hackensack Fire Department, working closely with me and my team, they won a nearly $2.4 million dollar SAFER grant to hire twelve firefighters and help protect this great community and all the families here. This will help ensure the fire department here is adequately staffed.  Every one of these dollars will not only make Hackensack safer, but they will save taxpayers millions of dollars, helping to lower their property taxes. 
 
Unfortunately, the Hackensack City Council has indicated that they plan to turn down the grant and send $2.4 million dollars from Jersey back to Washington, in, what I’d say, is an unprecedented decision. I fear it will impact the safety of this community and hurt families in their pocketbook.   
 
We’re here today to strongly encourage the Hackensack City Council to reconsider their decision, accept the nearly $2.4 million dollar federal SAFER grant we’ve clawed from Washington back to Jersey, hire the new firefighters to better protect Hackensack families, and save taxpayers on their property tax bill. Please don’t turn down the opportunity to actually get the backs of our first responders, and ensure this department is adequately staffed. Please don’t turn down the opportunity to help lower property taxes here. Please don’t defund this fire department. I stand ready to help the Council in any way possible, so Northern New Jersey doesn’t miss this critical opportunity. 
 
Here are the facts:
 
The federal “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” Grant — or SAFER Grant — was created to invest directly in fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, frontline firefighters in their communities.
 
The goal of the SAFER Grant is to enhance local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.
 
Ahead of the February 4, 2022 deadline, the Hackensack Fire Department applied for this year’s federal grant to hire twelve new firefighters. My office and I strongly supported their application. 
 
Fast forward to September of this year, and I learned from FEMA, who helps manage the dollars Congress allocates for SAFER grants, that Hackensack’s grant application was a success. I called the Chief and Mayor with the great news that they’d be able to claw back more than $2.3 million of our federal tax dollars to help us here — to hire twelve firefighters for the next three years. The salaries are paid for three years. 
 
But then things turned south. 
 
The City Council announced that Hackensack planned to turn down the grant – turn down the $2.3 million dollars and twelve firefighters.  
 
Now, the City Council has just five days left to accept the grant. Five days left to invest in our first responders. Five days to help keep residents here even safer.
 
The City Council claims that adding twelve new firefighters over the next three years will negatively impact the budget in year four. As soon as the three years of investment from the grant ends, the city is concerned that they will have to take over the salaries of these new firefighters.
 
According to the Fire Department, over the course of three years there will be upwards of twenty currently-employed firefighters who will be ready to retire; they average four retiring firefighters a year.
 
The twelve new firefighters will also help the City save money — by having more firefighters available to help, rather than paying overtime.
 
On top of that, according to a September 2022 report of the City’s Fire Department, public safety experts took a look at all the recent, phenomenal development in Hackensack, including highrises, hospitals, and more, and stated: “Clearly the size and complexity of many of these development projects will prove challenging for the current public safety resources of the city and call for careful consideration for increasing the response capabilities of local fire department.” End quote.
 
And the Fire Department has offered to take appropriate action if the budget and overtime savings aren’t there.
 
So, in my opinion, and those of the experts, hiring twelve new firefighters just makes sense – and their salaries are paid for three years. It just makes sense to accept the SAFER grant, and, again, I strongly urge the Council to please reconsider. 
 
Please accept this federal investment. 
 
Without question, we must do everything we can to keep our first responders safe, so they can in turn keep us safe. 
 
Winning these grants takes hard work, both from the fire, police, and EMS departments, local leaders, and the strong support from Congress. You’re competing with communities from Moocher States across America.
 
Instead of hiring twelve new firefighters on the City’s dime with local property taxes — something the City will have to do as the city expands and firefighters retire — we have the opportunity to claw our federal tax dollars back to do it – and save our taxpayers real money.
 
We’ve been doing this all over the Fifth District. Since I was elected in 2016, we’re up 357 percent in terms of our federal tax dollars that we’ve clawed back to Jersey. In just the last calendar year, that’s $750 back to every household in the Fifth District. This is truly a win-win-win for Northern New Jersey. 
 
Thank you to everyone here for what you do to keep us all safe, for your public service, for always getting our backs, and for supporting clawing more of our tax dollars back to Jersey. Thank you to the Hackensack Fire Department for fighting for the SAFER Grant, for joining me in my fight to ensure our fire departments are adequately staffed, for standing by your firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement, and making sure they and our community are safe. Thank you to the Hackensack Council for reconsidering. 
 
I know that working together, here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us.
 
Thank you and God bless you and God bless the United States of America.
 
 

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