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Harrison Fire Department A Long Way From Newark Takeover

Jul 06, 2022
Harrison Fire Department Ladder Truck Red Bulls Arena

In 2011, Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan retired from the Harrison Fire Department. Mayor Raymond J. McDonough recruited Harrison resident Harold Stahl to be an interim part-time Fire Director.  Harold Stahl continues to this day as a part-time Fire Director and has added another responsibility being the Director of the Office of Emergency Management for the Town of Harrison. Stahl is well qualified for his positions and it is no surprise that Mayor Raymond McDonough chose him to fill the Fire Director’s position on an interim basis knowing that over 35 years of firefighter experience at the Rahway NJ Fire Department and a stint as Rahway’s Fire Department Chief would provide the leadership to navigate a rough patch in the history of Harrison’s Fire Department. The City of Rahway’s loss through retirement was beneficial to the Town of Harrison and its residents.

Last month, the Mayor and Council promoted four firefighters to Battalion Captains.  Those firefighters are already interim-Captains but will be sworn in officially as Battalion Captains of the Harrison Fire Department on August 3, 2022. These Captains will be Captain Michael J. Granato, Captain Eric S. Hausmann, Captain Kevin T. DeGaetano, and Captain James K. Patterson. 

Current Harrison Fire Chief Henry Richard announced that the goal of the promotions was to set the foundation for an additional fire company.  The promotions will create permanent supervisors to be able to have an additional Fire Company become a reality.

Fire Director Harold Stahl and Councilman Anselmo Millan (center) with Harrison Fire Department Firefighters

The forethought of Mayor Raymond McDonough to reach out to Harrison resident, Harold Stahl, to head up the Harrison Fire Department helped the Town of Harrison weather a very bad financial period where the Harrison Fire Department became a target of the State of New Jersey’s Department of Community affairs.  The Harrison Fire Department was also fortunate to have Councilman Anselmo Millan on the Town Council in 2016 and as Chair of the Harrison Fire Department Committee.  It does matter who you elect in national elections but in many ways, it is as important who you elect in a local election.  Experience matters as does work ethic.

In 2014, Mayor McDonough passed suddenly and without warning in the Harrison Town Hall from a massive heart attack.  The loss was a great shock to Mayor McDonough’s wife, family, friends, and residents of Harrison among many others. 

The Town Council found an interim Mayor while the town tried to heal from the loss of Mayor McDonough.  James Fife became the interim Mayor with the consent of the Harrison Town Council members. Mayor Fife remained past his interim period and continues as Mayor today. He has since reneged on two promises to allow an open Democratic Primary. 

In 2016, Mayor Fife was just two and a half years into his service as Mayor of Harrison when he was faced with a budget crisis.  The Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) income had not yet reached its critical mass that the late Mayor Raymond McDonough had envisioned would allow the Town of Harrison to be economically independent and not have to obtain State of New Jersey Transitional Aid to pay its expenses.

Councilman Millan Saves Transfer of Fire Department to City of Newark

In 2016, at an infamous Council meeting, then-Councilman Anselmo Millan had a very heated argument with Mayor Fife.  Mayor Fife had put up a Resolution to Transfer the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark.  Mayor Fife had given into the pressure from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to Transfer the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark as a cost-saving measure.

In the hallway outside the Third Floor Conference Room outside the Mayor’s office, the halls were filled with off-duty Firefighters. The tension was so great and the raised voice of Councilman Millan could be heard in the hallway.  Councilman Millan pushed to table the bill before a vote and when he did not get Mayor Fife to change his mind, he lobbied his fellow Council members to reject the Resolution and ultimately suggested tabling the Resolution to the next Council meeting.  Mayor Fife had presented the Resolution to Transfer the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark as a "fait accompli".

After a lot of discussions and raised voices, Councilman Millan got enough votes to table the resolution.  Shortly thereafter, Councilman Millan spoke with several of the City of Newark council members who he knew to gather their support not to accept the DCAs suggested transfer of the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark.

Ultimately, Mayor Fife realized that the idea of transferring the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark was a bad idea.  Councilman Millan was correct that it made little sense to dismantle a historic and essential institution with a great history of service.  The cost savings would not be that great after further analysis.  Not to mention safety issues with access to Harrison from Newark which would require a bridge crossing.

Today, the Town of Harrison is receiving significant PILOT money from completed luxury apartment buildings in Harrison’s SOHA Redevelopment District.  That is not to say that the Town is out of the woods yet.  Property Taxpayers have not seen any significant decrease in Property Taxes. 

Stahl and Millan Push for Pierce-Arrow Tiller Ladder Truck

Councilman Anselmo Millan signing as Fire Director Harold Stahl witnesses signature for purchase of Pierce-Arrow 107 Foot Tiller Ladder Fire Engine.

Councilman Millan also supported the Harrison Fire Department purchase of a Pierce-Arrow 107-foot Tiller Ladder Fire Engine The purchase order was signed in October of 2017 by then-Councilman Anselmo Millan as the Harrison Fire Department Chairman who along with Public Safety Director Harold Stahl lobbied Mayor Fife and the Town Council to purchase the ladder truck.  In 2017, the Town of Harrison had a 1991 Simon Duplex Aerial Ladder Truck that now serves as a spare ladder truck for the Department.

Turning the Corner: New Firefighters On Their Way

Current Harrison Fire Chief Henry Richard stated that there are four additional firefighters at the Fire Academy training who are scheduled to graduate in November of 2022 and three new firefighters who are waiting to start their training at the Fire Academy.

The goal is to provide fire protection coverage for the Town of Harrison and fulfill the Harrison Fire Department’s mission to protect the lives and property of Harrison Residents.  Chief Richard's goal is to have One Chief, Four Battalion Chiefs, Twelve Captains, and Twenty Eight Firefighters.  If the goal is reached, that will make for forty-five firefighters

Forty-Five fighters would allow per shift the department to have One Captain, Four Battalion Chiefs, and seven firefighters per shift.

In 2016 when the DCA recommended the transfer of the Harrison Fire Department to the City of Newark, the Harrison Fire Department had 29 firefighters.  According to Chief Richards, Forty-Five fighters is the highest number of firefighters since 2010.

Increase in Population

Harrison Station Apartment Building Rendering

The Town of Harrison has seen a huge increase in population.  The 2020 Census indicated a 43% increase in population in Harrison.  The population growth is attributed mostly to the SOHA section of Harrison whose luxury apartment buildings have attracted new residents adding to those already in Harrison who are no longer the newbies. The population of the Town of Harrison is now estimated at 19,000 residents.

New apartment buildings require the investment in new equipment like the Pierce-Arrow Tiller Ladder Fire Truck.  In addition, personnel provides fire protection whenever the need arises. 

What are your thoughts on the Harrison Fire Department?  What’s your opinion on Councilman Anselmo Millan's objection to transferring the HFD to the City of Newark? Let Us Know Your Thoughts on our Community Discussion Board.  If you have not signed up yet to participate you can Sign Up now.