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Hillsdale, NJ councilmember resigns after saying firefighters 'do a lot of drinking'. News coverage doesn't say anything about firehouse alcohol policy.

From Hillsdale VFD website.

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There is an interesting story from the Borough of Hillsdale, New Jersey (Bergen County) where around noon today freshman Councilman Joseph “Rod” Capawana, who was also the borough fire commissioner, resigned over a comment he made during a council meeting last week. His comment on May 1 about the drinking habits of firefighters from the Hillsdale Volunteer Fire Department angered members of the department.

From Kimberly Redmond at

According to (Mayor Max) Arnowitz, during Capawana’s monthly fire department report, the councilman remarked, “They’re [firefighters] doing a lot of training and a lot of drinking” at the firehouse.”

Jerry Demarco’s article in the Cliffview Pilot last Wednesday had the same quote (recorded from the council TV broadcast) and talked to firefighters who made it clear that this was not over:

“Out of thousands or man hours we put in, that’s what they say about us?” one firefighter told CLIFFVIEW PILOT Wednesday morning.

“We depend on donations from the public,” he said, “and the public is being told by its fire commissioner [Capawana] that we’re drunks?”

I am dissapointed in both reporters, because while they talked to ranking officials of the department, they never told their readers anything about the Hillsdale VFD’s alcohol policy. Seems like an obvious question after the topic is brought up by the councilmember who is the liasison to the fire department. Also, wouldn’t the fire department want to make that crystal clear so there is no future misunderstanding?

In the coverage from both papers it does give the impression that alcohol is allowed. More from

Arnowitz said he is unsure of what prompted Capawana, the council liaison to the fire department, to make the remark, but pointed out that the councilman’s comment was preceded by a discussion on a Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) training session on “civility, harassment and liability” for all borough personnel, including the mayor and council.

“When it came up, I said ‘Let’s have it in the Borough Hall instead of across the street [at the firehouse] where there’s alcohol’,” Arnowitz recalled.

Does that mean there’s alcohol for events in the social hall or is this a firehouse with a bar for its members?

The other question I have is if you allow alcohol at the firehouse, can you really be that upset about the impression or misimpression it leaves on political leaders and the public?

Is that a fair question or do I just not get it?

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Comments - Add Yours

  • RJ(in florida)

    bars in the firehoue is a up north thing and part of the vollie enviornment dave. Since i’m a product of that enviornment i can say that i would not get on a truck with a drunk member and i would say something (and did once) and worry about the fallout later.

    as long as you use adult common sense and others watch out for members who dont use good judgement it might be left alone because drunk responders is unaceptible

    • dave statter

      I am familiar with it. It is not alien to me at all. Seen it first hand. If that is the case though in Hillsdale (and I don’t know that it is), I think it takes chutzpah, if you will pardon my Yiddish, to complain when the public or a politician expresses an opinion on that policy of allowing a bar in the firehouse. You want to have it, it’s your right. But expect the grief that goes with it and don’t fall on the we are firefighters who get up in the middle of night and save your ass argument.

  • Mike

    Take the bars out of the firehouses, there is no place for them

  • Firemutt

    I understand the whole bar in the firehouse issue can cause problems. Dave however made a good point when he asked what the HFD’s alcohol policy is. Most FD’s paid or volunteer have alcohol policies whether there is a bar in the firehouse or not. Alcohol is legal and can be consumed by of age adults so a policy is needed. If HFD has a strong alcohol policy and can prove it has 0 tolerance when it comes to responding with alcohol in your system then they have a right to be angry. If members are known to be responding drunk then don’t get mad when someone calls you out. Alcohol causes issues in all professions it doesn’t matter where you get it.

    • Lizard

      having had some experience with the fire culture in NJ, it kills me that people who have no experience with it and have never been there pass judgement. That being said, yes there is alot of drinking, but I’ve never seen drinking and responding mix. They have fun, but not at the expense of the public.

  • North chief

    Isn’t it funny how some folks defend this by saying they never saw drinking and emergency responses mix? Come on, do you think we are dumb? It happens in paid departments, vollie departments and everywhere in between. Allowing alcohol in the building is just asking for trouble regardless of the written policy. We have written seat belt policies in most places, and we continue to see guys fall off the trucks.

    Written policies are only as good as the judgement of the individual firefighter. Even in places where there is no alcohol allowed, volunteers can drink at home and respond, happens every day. We have to trust the morals of each member, and they are human and will push the limits occasionally.