Just before the deadline on Saturday, Hackensack announced that they had applied of a federal grant that would allow them to hirer five new firefighters under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Act, down from the twelve they had initially been able to get.
The city’s down-to-the-wire decision came after immense pressure from Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and members of the local firefighters union who wanted the city to accept a $2.4 million grant that would have had the federal government pick up the tab for salaries and benefits for a dozen new firefighters for the first three years.
Hackensack is facing about 20 retirements by 2025, but the city council was unwilling to commit to an additional 12 in the event that some retirements don’t occur. Public safety experts say the Hackensack Fire Department is understaffed in a city where new tall buildings are being constructed and the Hackensack University Medical Center continues to be expanded.
“Maintaining sufficient staffing in our police and fire departments is essential to keeping our city safe, but we must also always be mindful of the impact on taxpayers — this action strikes the right balance for our city,” said John Labrosse, the city’s mayor.
Labrosse, a Democrat, and his colleagues had faced pressure from Gottheimer to accept the federal funds.