Egg Harbor Fire Chief Andy Staats addressed the Egg Harbor Village Board Monday evening, Aug. 10.
Village Board President John Heller invited Staats in the wake of emails and calls the trustees have been receiving about conflict within the fire department, which serves both the Village and Town of Egg Harbor.
The Joint Egg Harbor Fire Commission, which handles operations for the department, had selected Staats from among five applicants to be the new chief July 1, following the retirement of Steve Schopf. After Staats’ appointment, five people requested leaves of absence, and one person resigned.
Staats, who attended the Zoom meeting with his brother, Assistant Fire Chief Jason Staats, said he couldn’t comment on the personnel issues that were still being worked out. He did acknowledge that the fire hall, located within the Village of Egg Harbor, is now lightly staffed. He is relying on mutual aid to help answer the calls that he said had been busy since the Fourth of July. Others within the department had also stepped up, he said.
“As of right now, I’m very happy to report we’ve not had any unanswered calls,” he said.
Staats said two past members have approached him about returning to the department, and he’s currently getting them reoriented. Another person has contacted him regarding emergency medical responder (EMR) assistance and is going through the application process.
“I’m just over one month in, and I feel I have very good support in the fire department,” Staats said.
He acknowledged it’s a tough time for the department and that its current reputation is potentially poor within the community. But he said he is “trying to be open and honest and not cover anything up.”
When Trustee Lisa Van Laanen asked whether the issues within the department are now behind him, Staats said he is working through them all.
“The road is still a little rocky ahead of us,” he said, but there is a “positive vibe in the rest of the department” that he thought could carry them forward.
Trustee Robert Dickson asked whether Staats would reach out to those who had requested the leaves of absence.
“That’s a lot of expertise that existed within our department, and it would be a shame to lose that long term,” Dickson said.
“There have been some communications,” Staats said. “I don’t want to lose any membership, but I need to be able to move forward on the emergency scene 100 percent confident that I have full support.”
Trustee Joe Smith said that more medical than fire calls are requested, and he wanted to know how the response has been, given that four out of the five members on leave provided EMR or dual medical and fire response.
“We still have, within that radius, two EMRs that have been responding,” Staats said, with response also coming from the department’s station in Carlsville. “We have not had any EMR or fire calls not responded to.”
Heller asked whether Staats is satisfied with the response times – something Staats said he is watching closely.
“As of right now, we’re still maintaining the average we’ve been running,” Staats said.