SEA ISLE CITY — The state is not budging.
A day after city officials accused the state Division of Fire Safety of losing relevant paperwork and “erroneously” concluding then-fire Chief Frank Edwardi Sr. did not have proper training, the state said the city still has not produced acceptable documentation to recertify Edwardi as a firefighter.
On Wednesday, a state review found Edwardi’s new application for certification — submitted this week to “clear his name,” according to the city — cannot be used to recertify him.
The documents included are over 25 years old, not notarized and missing a letter from the chief at the time of his training, said Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the Division of Fire Safety.
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What’s more, one of Edwardi’s submitted certifications was from an online course, when an in-person, instructor-led class is needed.
“The Division of Fire Safety’s records show no courses taken by Frank Edwardi Sr., which is why there is no record of ever issuing him any certifications,” Ryan said.
The state’s response represents the latest development in the dispute that has followed the June ouster of Edwardi, 75, and his two assistants, Mike Tighe and Mike Ryan, all of whom received cease-and-desist letters June 12. The state concluded they did not have the proper training documents to be certified as firefighters, or to be in a leadership position.
Questions remain as to how the inquiry started and unfolded. And the confusion comes at a time when the department and city have been met with scrutiny from residents over a number of destructive fires.
Police Chief Thomas McQuillen, who oversees the Fire Department as the city’s public safety director, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Edwardi, in an interview Thursday, said he’s backing away from the situation.
Now dealing with health issues and on disability from his city position as marina supervisor, Edwardi professes ignorance as to how or why everything came apart.
“It was just one big cluster,” Edwardi said.
After 45 years as a firefighter in Sea Isle and about eight years as chief, Edwardi feels alienated.
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“I couldn’t believe it was happening there,” he said. “You’re out there by yourself. There’s nobody behind you.”
This is not the first time the state’s and city’s accounts have diverged.
The state said it started an inquiry into the volunteer fire department’s training records after a rash of fires and an anonymous complaint, according to a division spokesperson. In a public letter, McQuillen said the push to get all firefighters up to date on their training originated from a conversation during an “after-action” review of an Easter morning fire that destroyed four residential units.
Asked if there was a way both of those accounts could be true, Louis Kilmer of the Division of Fire Safety reiterated the agency’s position: “The Division started a review after the anonymous complaint.”
Edwardi said some of his records were lost in Hurricane Sandy, and speculated that could be why many firefighters couldn’t produce certification documents when asked by the state in the spring.
“I looked at my file one time, I had eight or nine certifications and they were all gone,” he said. “My file was empty.”