Edison fire union takes issue to state Comptroller’s Office

Questions regarding overtime funds at hand

BY DAN NEWMAN Staff Writer

EDISON — Spurred by a request at a council meeting late last month, the Edison Fire Fighters Association has called on state Comptroller Matthew Boxer to conduct an audit of the Edison Fire Department’s salaries and wages account to see how overtime money is being spent.

Association President Robert Yackel said he sent a letter to Boxer on Dec. 28, in which he stated that the problems with overtime were set in motion by former Mayor Jun Choi’s administration’s policies that increased the use of highly paid battalion chiefs (two were supposed to be on duty at all times) and using a battalion chief on overtime to direct out-of-town departments to a fire scene instead of using a lower-rank member of the department.

“They call in battalion chiefs all the time, and it’s just ridiculous,” Yackel said. “We really need to get to the bottom of this salary thing. There’s no reason that the department can’t use lower-rank firefighters in certain situations.”

The demand for the state audit was prompted after a request was made at a Dec. 21 Township Council meeting to have money transferred to cover a shortfall that occurred due to an increase in overtime.

Yackel also questioned other practices within the department, such as calling in a captain to replace a rank-and-file firefighter who calls in sick; a department captain makes about 12.5 percent more than a senior firefighter, according to Yackel. And, when six township firefighters were laid off during the summer, several transfers were made, which resulted in some platoons having numerous people off at one time. Thus, overtime was needed at the beginning of a shift so that the town’s mandated minimum onduty firefighting contingent of 22 was on hand.

“Under Choi, the department was at its lowest levels in years, which created safety risks for civilians and the firefighters,” Yackel said. “He constantly pleaded poverty while at the same time taking action that led to significant overtime for highly paid battalion chiefs.”

Yackel felt that this was his only choice, in an effort to find out why so much money is being spent.

“It was either this or go to the prosecutor,” Yackel said, “but nothing illegal has taken place, so really the only way we could get this going was to go to the Comptroller’s Office.”

Yackel also mentioned that he has yet to hear back from Boxer.

Calls to Edison Fire Chief Norman Jensen were not returned.