Galloway Township officials say they are working on potential administrative changes to suggest to its volunteer fire companies after a 2011 lawsuit exposed holes in the companies’ bylaws.
The township says the changes will not affect the local companies’ autonomy but will make them less vulnerable to potential lawsuits and other problems.
Mayor Don Purdy and Township Manager Arch Liston conducted a meeting Monday at City Hall with about 100 residents, most of whom were members of Galloway’s five volunteer fire companies: Oceanville, Germania, Pomona, Bayview and South Egg Harbor. Liston said a suit brought on last year by a former firefighter unearthed some “gray areas” in the township’s agreement with the companies that needed to be addressed.
In April 2011, Konstadinos “Gus” Koltoukis filed a lawsuit alleging that during the two years he worked for the Oceanville company, he continually objected to what he said were ethical and safety breaches. He was terminated from the company five months prior to filing the suit. A settlement is pending, township Fire Chief Ron Garbutt said.
Liston said Koltoukis’ suit caused township attorneys to review the company’s bylaws and identify some problems, including that bylaws differed by company. He said some solutions would include all of the companies having uniform bylaws and developing a system in which everyone is treated fairly.
Purdy stressed the township had no desire to take over the companies, and Liston said he would meet with other towns and the state Department of Community Affairs to study agreements in other towns and find a way to work it out.
The township provides equipment and money to the companies — whose collective budget totals $770,000 — but the companies operate as a nonprofit organization separate from the municipality. The township’s 180 volunteer firefighters are not municipal employees but are covered under the township’s insurance and workman’s compensation fund.
“We’re not looking to take anything away. The last thing we want to do is bring politics into the firehouse,” Purdy said. “We’ve never said no to the fire department, and we don’t want to say no to the fire department.”
Firefighters in attendance said they did not want that part to change and pledged their support for Garbutt, who is elected by the members to oversee the companies and works as a liaison to the township.
Liston also suggested the companies could break off from the township into individual fire districts and charge a tax to support their costs, but some firefighters were concerned they could not generate enough revenue.
Firefighters were also concerned about the vacant secretary position for the companies that could handle paperwork and process applications for new members. Firefighters said that position — who was an employee of the township — could help work out the paperwork needed to be done.
“Please solve the problem,” said Capt. Todd Hangelli of the Germania company.
Garbutt said they will continue to work with the township to determine how they will proceed.
“We are trying to figure out what our future will be and how we will fit into the government,” he said.
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