Firefighters in Camden County push for fire truck improvements after deadly blaze

Union leaders emphasize that firefighters and residents are at risk due to their fleet, which has several mechanical issues.

Briana Smith Image
Sunday, March 10, 2024
Firefighters in Camden County push for fire truck improvements after deadly blaze
Firefighters in Camden County push for fire truck improvements after deadly blaze

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Firefighters in Camden, New Jersey are pushing for better equipment and faster repairs after a fatal fire on Friday.

The flames broke out in the early morning on Newtown Avenue. Officials say a man was trapped on the second floor.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, they tried to reach the second story with a hose to put out the flames.

Unfortunately, they were forced to wait due to a mechanical issue with the fire truck's hose.

Another fire truck arrived to help, but the man did not survive the blaze.

The presidents of two Camden fire unions say an investigation will determine the man's cause of death.

They are also emphasizing that firefighters and residents are at severe risk due to their aging fleet of fire trucks, which has several mechanical issues.

"Annually, all our fire engines have to undergo a test to see how they flow water and they're failing at the rate of 50% and that's significant. It's not even safe to be out on the road," noted Samuel Munoz, president of the Camden Fire Officers Local 2578.

"In our world, seconds and minutes are a world of time when it comes to saving someone's life and the firefighters' safety themselves," added William Perez, president of the Camden Firefighters Local 788.

Both leaders say they're concerned about what will happen if the necessary improvements aren't made.

"If we don't rectify these very serious issues, folks' lives are going to be jeopardized - both residents and firefighters," said Munoz.

Perez added that firefighters can't continue to operate efficiently with such old equipment.

"We have trucks that are older than some of my firefighters. We have a fleet that's constantly in maintenance. We are in a reactive phase of how we handle things," he said.

The union leaders say city officials need to be proactive to repair or replace the failing fleet.

The Camden Mayor's office responded in a statement saying the safety of the residents and fire personnel are always a top priority.

The statement also acknowledged some fire trucks have faced operational issues, but noted that the city is not immune to supply-chain issues and delayed parts.

In the meantime, city leaders say they have ordered three new trucks.

While waiting for them to be delivered, the city has taken steps to repair the fleet.

Authorities say they are posting new mechanic positions so repairs can be completed, entering into an emergency contract with a new vendor to have at least three outside vendors available for specialized repairs, and exploring a shared service with another municipality to find qualified mechanics.

Despite these efforts, union leaders are still frustrated.

"We need action. We've been more than reasonable. I think the residents deserve better," noted Perez.

"The fire department in Camden has been asked to do more with less for quite some time and all we want is dialogue so we can establish a comprehensive plan," said Munoz.

Munoz added that this comprehensive plan would be a multi-faceted approach.

He suggested buying stock fire trucks immediately through emergency funding and following up with a comprehensive fire truck replacement plan to provide fire protection and keep everyone safe.

The union presidents say they want to meet with city leaders to develop an immediate plan while they wait for the new trucks.

They also say a new truck is slated to be in service by June, but they are worried about the fires that will happen before then.

Read the full statement from the mayor's office below:

"The safety of our City residents and City of Camden fire personnel are always a top priority and remain a top priority. It is the City's understanding that neither equipment or function of the fire apparatus impacted the Camden Fire Department's ability to put out this fire.

The City acknowledges that some fire apparatus have experienced mechanical/operational issues in recent months. The City is not immune from supply-chain issues and specialized parts are often on backorder and take longer than normal to arrive.

Under Mayor Carstarphen's leadership, the City has purchased/ordered THREE new pieces of apparatus for the Fire Department. Prior to this equipment being ordered, the City had not placed a new frontline piece of equipment into service. Unfortunately, new fire apparatus takes significant lead time (up to two years) to design, manufacture, and deliver.

While waiting for new apparatus, the City has taken numerous steps to more quickly repair its existing fleet. These steps include:

-Posting new mechanic positions within the DPW motor pool so certain repairs can be done in-house. Because of the tight employment market, it has been very difficult to fill the positions.

-Entering into an emergency contract with a new vendor so that we will have at least three outside vendors available to do specialized repair work.

-Explored a shared service with another urban municipality to try to find additional options for qualified mechanics to work on City apparatus."