BUENA — Community members have begun circulating petitions to recall both the mayor and a councilman after a months-long battle over the closing of the Landisville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.
The petitions, which were approved by borough election officials this week, allege Mayor David Zappariello and Councilman Joseph D’Alessandro III did not act in the best interest of residents in moving to dissolve Fire District #1, which was covered by the Landisville company.
There was a lack of communication with the “constituents of the Boro by phone, email and during the public portion of the phone-in council meetings,” according to the petitions.
Both Zappariello and D’Alessandro are aware of the petitions and stand by their decision to close the fire company.
“Our constituents have the right to recall their elected officials, and I don’t know what the outcome of the recall effort will be,” D’Alessandro said Friday. “I understand the dissolution of the Borough of Buena Board of Fire Commissioners District 1 may have upset some of our residents. However, mayor and council have acted in the best interest of the residents, property owners and the volunteer firefighters of the Borough of Buena by voting unanimously to dissolve Borough of Buena Board of Fire Commissioners District 1, a governmental entity.”
The five-member Borough Council voted unanimously in July to dissolve Fire District #1. The council also voted to expand Fire District #2, which is served by the Minotola Volunteer Fire Company, so Minotola now covers the area formerly serviced by Landisville.
Sue Romeo, one of the community members leading the recall, said the closure of the fire company isn’t the only reason for the petitions.
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“The closure got the ball rolling, and that’s not the only reason,” Romeo said Friday. “The mayor and council were not responding to the community, there were people trying to reach out to them ... and it wasn’t all about the fire department; several community members were trying to contact them for other issues and they wouldn’t respond to them. You should respond to the community. We are the taxpayers.”
Now that the petitions have been approved, supporters have 160 days to collect a minimum of 826 signatures, Romeo said.
“So far, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback and we’re optimistic that we’ll be successful,” Romeo said.
Once the signatures are certified, there will be a five-day period where D’Alessandro and Zappariello can resign or choose to endure the recall vote.
The decision to close the fire company came after it had been suspended due to numerous violations found by the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health agency in October and December 2020.
At the time, the company was found to have more than two dozen violations.
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Grievances included a lack of mandated policy for incidents involving workplace accidents, bloodborne pathogens and Hazmat incidents. There was no labeling of any chemicals kept in the building, which must have a safety data sheet. Some gear issued to active members was out of date per National Fire Protection Association standards, said Brian Rowan, who worked at the department for 11 years before he contacted the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs and PEOSH about the issues.
Rowan believes the petitions will be unsuccessful.
“In my personal opinion, it (the recall) is led by several people who don’t have an understanding of the inner workings of the firehouse,” Rowan said. “I think this is a fruitless effort, going after councilmembers for decisions that they don’t like, and I don’t think it’s really going to go anywhere.”
Rowan said the council and the mayor had to make a tough decision in shutting down the department.
“They have a tough job to do, and they believe that it was best for the borough,” Rowan said. “Many people who were there for many years, including myself, are in agreement with this decision.”
In February, the Department of Health determined the fire company still had six violations, including not having all firefighters up to date on their annual respirator training.
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A reinspection June 11 determined the department had fixed all outstanding violations, according to a letter from the Health Department.
Both Zappariello and D’Alessandro stand behind their votes to close the department and said the communication to the public was more than adequate.
“Fire District 1 had glaring deficiencies that may have resulted in serious injury or death,” Zappariello wrote in response to the petitions.
Zappariello also said the virtual council meetings contained public portions that allowed anyone to speak, and an in-person community meeting, held in May, allowed all attendees “unlimited time” to voice their concerns.
“The public meeting lasted for over two hours and contained a 112-page presentation of information gathered by the Borough regarding the district,” D’Alessandro said in a statement. “This presentation has been available for download (and) viewing on the Borough’s website since the meeting.”
The council also made a presentation in May that said the estimated savings by dissolving Fire District #1 and expanding Fire District #2 would be $102,684 annually.
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