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Now the rest of the story: Articles make clear Hillsdale, NJ firehouse bar policy. Councilman who quit claims he observed drinking at fire department meetings.

From Hillsdale VFD website.

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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 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 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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Comments - Add Yours

  • JustSayin’

    Time for the State Highway Patrol to assign an Officer to respond to every FD Alarm
    with a Breath-a-lizer and test every driver.

    Same procedure after every meeting/training session at this FD.

    Also, random drug testing for all FD members should be initiated immediately.

    I’m sure this FD will then prove how the bar in the station has no negative effect what so ever.

    Slap da Sack!! G

  • Retired Captain – NJ

    Regardless of the rule and or regulations, alcohol and firefighting do not belong together – period. Anything less than adhering to that advice while providing a public service is unacceptable. It does not matter what the circumstances are. There are a lot of excuses but none are feasible.

  • John

    I wonder the same thing myself. The department I got my start in back in 1998 as a junior firefighter(also in NJ) has a bar upstairs to. And yes, they used to drink after drills/meetings too. Although we all do the same job, it amazes me to see a different the culture is from coast tro coast. Where I’m at now in Oregon, if you are caught in a bar wearing anything department related, you are done. No second chances.

  • RJ(in florida)

    Just an observation, but it a good bet that the ‘Bar” aint on the truck floor SO…what was he doing there? he’s a commissioner not a firefighter. if the bar is not a secret that just leaves sour grapes over “sumpthin else”. i’ll wait for the paul harvey REST of the story

  • BH

    This is news? I’ll show them drinking on a regular night, nevermind a meeting.

  • http://MidWestChief Mid West Chief

    Times have changed. The bar should have been a “war story” twenty years ago. Fire fighters are being laid off and departments are being dissolved, (volunteer and career alike), as the public reacts to the current economic conditions. Why risk this type of negative attention? No matter how you try, you cannot defend a bar in a fire station and to do so by citing policy for its use????? You’re not fooling any one.

  • Former Chief

    Dave, without getting into the debate of whether there should or should not be a bar in a volunteer firehouse, I’ll give you my opinion on the question you pose. I don’t think the Firefighters should take exception to the fact someone talks about the drinking in the firehouse. They are openly admitting that occurs at times. I think they were upset at the way it was portrayed by the former councilman at a public meeting. Now, he may be 100% right, but I think it should have been handled more professionally by him and if he genuinely was concerned, he needed to address the issue with the municipal administration and FD first.

    • dave statter

      Personally Former Chief I think all sides could have handled this better.

      Whether it’s firefighters or any other group everyone seems to go nuclear over the smallest slight. How about talking to the guy, one on one, tell him and show him how he is misinformed, where he erred and give him a chance to correct it? Do so not because of hurt feelings but that the facts are wrong.

      Just because he made a mistake in how he handled it doesn’t mean you should act the same way. But, of course, what we don’t know is any other agendas that may be behind this on either side.

      I read bellyaching on hear day after day about the world being too sensitive these days. And there’s a lot of it I agree with. But shouldn’t we all look in the mirror first before complaining about others being too sensitive?

      You risk being seen as bullies over the politicians if you are not careful the way you use the political clout you have. Unions have found this out the hard way. It applies to volunteers too.


      • Former Chief

        I agree with you on all points Dave. “Knee jerk” reactions on all sides. It is amazing what can be resolved by just talking TO each other, not AT each other.

  • Bullets

    What about fire houses with banquet halls?

    my ems building has a bar, but you can not answer calls if you are drinking

  • Markie D

    Bringing two drinks to an admin meeting and drinking at every meeting that the FD has, is a big problem. If you really are a dedicated volunteer firefighter, close the bar. I am one of the firefighters in Hillsdale.

  • John B.

    Alcohol and the Fire Service is a liability nightmare. Most insurance policies will not pay off, if the member has ANY alcohol in their system.
    However, in these rough economic times, it is tough enough to find anyone who will risk their lives for free. A wise old Chief once told me that the Volunteer Fire Service is the poor man’s country club. It is a place to go, and unwind, a social gathering place for friends and family. BUT, no one should go on a call, after having even “just one”…