12 September, 1985 (~estimated)
Panel urged to offer benefits to volunteers
By Jill Williams
HAMILTON — Concern over the declining number of volunteers for fire companies and first aid crews and the shortage of volunteers available during the work day. attracted about 50 people to a special GOP legislative task force hearing at town hall last night.
Headed by Assemblyman Joseph A. Palaia. R-Monmouth, the task force heard the concerns of volunteers and plans to draft legislation that would provide special benefits for those fire and rescue workers.
“We have been accumulating information on what the firemen and first aid people tell us their problems are,” Palaia said. .adding that bills addressing those concerns are being drafted.
Mark Frieda, president of the Princeton First Aid Squad and a member of Princeton’s fire department told the group of Assembly members that there is declining financial support from local businesses. although those same businesses expect to be served by fire and safety crews when necessary.
He said many businesses will not allow employees to leave their jobs on fire and first aid calls during the day. which has led some communities to hire help for the daytime shift.
SEVERAL VOLUNTEERS urged the legislators to consider providing incentives for businesses ,whg allow employees to answer calls during the work day.
Frieda, who has been involved in volunteer work for 11 years, said people “cannot continue to discourage volunteers” and expect them to serve the community.
According to task force data, 525 of New Jersey’s 567 municipalities are served by volunteer fire companies. and that 95 percent of the state’s 65,000 firefighters are volunteers.
The task force data ‘also notes that there are 466 volunteer first aid squads with 15,000 members across the state. Palaia said the task force has considered tax abatements, increased death benefits for firefighters and squad members killed in the line. of duty, and a small ‘pension program for those volunteers that have dedicated years of service.
THE COST of funding proposed programs has not been determined. Public hearings have been held in Monmouth, Bergen and Gloucester counties, hoping to incorporate volunteers’ concerns into “effective and meaningful legislation. ” Seven bills have been drafted as a result of the hearings.
“How do we keep, from losing qualified personnel,” asked Janette Clayton of the Twin W First Aid Squad in West Windsor.
She said courses for certification are time consuming, but that people usually leave the volunteer work for reasons not related to squad work. such as job or family conflicts.
Clayton said squads should not have to “dicker” with municipal government for funds to provide a service to the community.
“THE MAJOR point that I’m bringing up is that you have veterans’ deductions. and senior citizen deductions … I think a good thing to took into would be to have volunteer firemen get a reduction.” said Hamilton Mayor John K Rafferty, a Republican candidate for the Assembly, referring to property or income tax breaks.
The mayor and his running mate. Thomas Colitsas. noted last night that incentives are an acceptable way to reverse “the trend of slumping membership in public safety organizations ”
Safety volunteers, who traveled from as far as South Plainfield and Somerville to express their concerns, supported the task force effort.
Volunteers said it is difficult to devote time to serve the community day and night, and also to have to hold “bake sales and bingo games” to pay for equipment — some of which costs as much as $150,000.
Beth Schermerhorn. research associate for the Assembly GOP, said William P. Schuber. R-Bergen, has sponsored a bill to provide death benefits to volunteer firemen and first aid people killed in the line of duty.
The bill was introduced at the beginning of the 1964-85 legislative session and is “still sitting in committee.”