It has taken at least five news articles over two weeks but finally someone is providing key information and asking important questions in connection with the comments about firefighters drinking made by a now former councilmember in the Borough of Hillsdale, New Jersey. Late yesterday two articles confirmed what many of us were reading between the lines, but couldn’t say for sure: the Hillsdale VFD has a bar (something the department says is not a secret); there is a policy for the bar’s use; the councilmember had a reason for making his remarks.
If you missed our story yesterday, Councilman Rod Capawana, who was also fire commissioner, resigned after making comments at a meeting last week during a report about the fire department that firefighters had been doing “a lot of training and a lot of drinking”. The leadership of the department and firefighters were outraged over Capawana’s remarks and had taken a no confidence vote against Capawana.
In a NorthJersey.com article by Pascack Valley Community Life’s Kimberly Redmond, we learn just how upset firefighters were. They showed up at Tuesday’s council meeting blasting Capawana. And they let other council members, including two firefighters and a firefighter’s wife, know how displeased they were that no one stood up to defend them. They also thought the report on the department should have included all of the work the firefighters had been doing.
Capawana was not at that meeting, but the same day had sent a letter to Chief Mark Durst explaining his May 1 comment:
He wrote, “While attending Fire Department meetings, I observed the consumption of alcoholic beverages. If an emergency call had come in during any of these times and something unforeseen occur, with alcohol being a factor, the liability to the town as well as any individual who knew drinking takes place at the Fire Department, would be considered gross negligence.”
The councilman wrote that he believes his statement was “honest and direct,” but admitted it was “perhaps insensitive to the feelings of the Fire Department.”
In a second NorthJersey.com article, this one by Chris Harris of The Record, the former councilman said his remarks were misunderstood and that he respects the firefighters as heroes who go into burning buildings. This is the article that finally mentions the bar and the drinking policy:
“[The firefighters] missed the point I was trying to make,” Capawana said, adding that there is a bar inside Hillsdale’s firehouse. “I raised the question of whether it is appropriate to drink at training sessions and regular meetings. I questioned that and I questioned the liability Hillsdale would face if firefighters responded to a call at that time.”
Deputy Chief Jason Durie said Wednesday that the fire department “does not allow drinking during training sessions or any public forum meetings.”
“It is used for special events and fundraisers and is kept locked at all times when not in use,” the statement read. “The Hillsdale Volunteer Fire Department remains committed to maintaining a professional working relationship with the mayor and council, including whoever is appointed to the newly vacated fire commissioner’s position.”
I think that it’s good the fire department made its policy clear. But after reading everything, I’m still left with the same thought I had yesterday. Is it really that outrageous the public or politicians are making firefighter booze comments when you have a bar inside the firehouse?
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