Trenton City Council Puts Firefighters And Residents Lives At Risk, As Council Rejects Purchase of Critical Fire Safety Equipment

City Sought to Utilize Federal American Recovery Plan Funds

July 8, 2022

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Mayor W. Reed Gusciora questioned the wisdom of City Council leadership after they failed to approve resolutions to replace protective equipment for the Trenton Fire Department (TFD).

“This is reckless behavior that places our public safety employees at risk. Three members of this Council have hijacked City business,” said Mayor Gusciora. “This equipment is used to protect firefighters and save lives.”

Prior to discarding the protective equipment measure, Council President Kathy McBride ruled “out of order” an attempt to fill a vacant seventh Council seat – a vote in which the mayor is granted a tie-breaking vote himself. Instead, McBride disallowed the motion, and her decision was upheld in a 3-3 tie even as Gusciora attempted to have his vote counted.

The fire safety equipment, namely self-contained breathing apparatus that include a harness, tank, and facemask, is used by firefighters to protect against smoke inhalation and other noxious chemicals while putting out fires. It is essential fire safety gear that is overdue for replacement.

The Administration’s plan was to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), federal funding that has been granted to the City, in the amount of $446,771 for the equipment. Rules drafted to guide ARPA spending specifically cite funding of “Emergency operations centers & emergency response equipment (e.g., emergency response radio systems)” as an eligible use.

The purchase was rejected by Council last night. Council Members Kathy McBride, Sonya Wilkins, and Robin Vaughn voted against the proposal; Council Members Joe Harrison, George Muschal, and Marge Caldwell-Wilson voted in the affirmative.

Much of the current protective equipment is outdated. Of the 151 harnesses on hand, 94 of those are now beyond their life cycle as per the professional fire standards. The stock of air tanks, which should be as high as 350, currently has 128 operational tanks. Just last year, 70 below-standard tanks were retired.

“The ARPA funding is a godsend to help us update fire safety apparatus,” said Department of Fire and Emergency Services Director Kenneth M. Douglas. “My firefighters are wondering right now why we would turn down this opportunity, but I’ve assured them that we will keep at it until we have the protective equipment we need.”

“We cannot grind the business of the City to a halt, or someone is going to get hurt,” Gusciora said. “It’s one thing not to pay your bills, but it’s another to turn down federal money being used to protect our public safety workers.”

City operations are currently being funding through executive order of the Mayor, due to the fact that Council leadership delayed budget hearings for months and declined passage of temporary emergency appropriations.

File Photos above by: Brian McCarthy, Dennis Symons and Michael Ratcliffe