Sussex County Fire Marshal Virgil R. Rome, Jr., attended the Vernon Council meeting on July 11 to discuss a mutual aid agreement, also known as Resolution 22-160, for emergency water delivery to neighboring communities in case of fires or other incidents.
Cities in Bergen, Hudson, and Essex counties are all serviced by city water systems, but those fire departments do not have water anchors or tenders (a type of firefighting vehicle that transports water from a water source to the scene of a fire). So when a fire occurs in those cities and the water system goes down, they reach out to rural counties, including Sussex, to provide water.
Rome said, “This has gone on for a number of years. There’s been many discussions about having somebody pay for reimbursements for the counties that assist in these emergencies.” Rome explained that Sussex County fire departments are volunteer-based. So, if Sussex County takes its equipment to one of these cities for an extended period of time, it taxes our volunteer manpower and puts our community at risk by reducing locally available resources.
“These emergencies go on for an extended period of time; they go on for eight hours, they’ve been for 16 hours, sometimes for 20 hours, and sometimes they’ve been for an entire weekend,” explained Rome.
He noted that there’s also some finger-pointing involved, with the city’s water company placing the onus on the city to remedy its emergency water supply issues, and the city placing blame on the water company for the lack of service.
In the beginning of this year, the water companies agreed to reimburse the towns that come into the cities to supply water during emergencies. “These events seem to be occurring more often now because of the age of those city water systems,” said Rome. He said most of the water systems are over 100 years old and they are very huge water mains, so when they break, the entire city could be without water.
The water companies have agreed to provide reimbursement based on rates issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Rome also requested that the Vernon Council put language in the ordinance saying that any money that is recouped from private water companies should make its way back to the fire departments. So the reimbursement would not be lost somewhere in local government.
This ordinance is only for water emergencies that would be requested to assist areas outside of Sussex County. Reimbursement would be requested from the private independent water company and not the neighboring towns or residents.
Vernon Council President Patrick Rizzuto asked Rome who would cover Vernon if the town’s tankers have to go out to assist another city in an emergency. Rome said that each fire department in the county has a system in place to call for mutual aid from surrounding towns when needed.
In emergency requests, Vernon would be asked to send only a few units. Warren County, Hunterdon County, and Morristown would also be asked to assist. A fire department doesn’t have to respond to call if they are not able to do so. If one county is not available, the other counties will be contacted instead.
The Vernon Council approved this resolution and will go forward with the ordinance.