SEA ISLE CITY — City officials are pushing back after the state Division of Fire Safety issued cease and desist letters to three top-ranking fire officials in June, saying they did not have the proper training to hold leadership positions in the city's volunteer department.
The city now puts the blame on the state in a release that "exonerates" Fire Chief Frank Edwardi, Sr., and says he is working to re-submit his certificates to "clear his name."
“He's going to be submitting those things shortly," said Police Chief Thomas McQuiellen Tuesday. "Our position is that he was certified to have served as the fire chief."
The removal of Chief Frank Edwardi, and his two assistants, Mike Ryan and Mike Tighe — who were found to not be certified for "incident command" — was first reported by nj.com in early July.
The city stated in a news release that in June 2019, the state "erroneously" concluded that Chief Edwardi did not have the required certificates and issued a letter of removal.
McQuiellen, who is in charge of the volunteer fire department, said he would be meeting with Edwardi about submitting the necessary forms later Tuesday.
"The City makes no statement as to how the State lost Fire Chief Edwardi's certificates and came to that mistaken conclusion," the release reads.
In an interview with nj.com earlier this month, Edwardi said he never took the required training and the city never told him he needed them.
Louis Kilmer, of the Division of Fire Safety, said last week that fire departments are responsible for keeping training certifications.
The Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the division, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Emails received from an Open Public Records request show that Police Chief Thomas McQuillen, who oversees the volunteer fire department as public safety director, communicated with Craig Augustoni of the Division of Fire Safety over the spring about getting firefighters up-to-date in their training, an inquiry the state says was prompted by an anonymous complaint.
Augustoni said those that did not have the proper certificates, or did not produce them for review, could not be certified as firefighters.
At the city council meeting Tuesday morning, Business Administrator George Savastano responded to a homeowner’s question for the city to clarify the timeline of when exactly the three firefighters were reinstated to their positions.
“It wasn’t reinstatement,” he said. “As far as we are concerned, they were the opposite of reinstated. They were never un-instated.”
The officials' departure comes at a time when the Fire Department, and the city, have been scrutinized for their response to a number of destructive fires, including one in November in which an 89-year-old resident died.
At the city council meeting Tuesday, homeowner John Deviny asked that the city be more open with residents after he says fires and fire department issues continue to be a topic in the town.
“I get a sense that you’re not disclosing to us what’s happening,” Divney said. “We haven't really heard any of the reasons why these fires happen. We gave you a good idea: to have a white paper, a review. Let us know why these things happen, what’s going on, etc."
In response, Savastano read out a list of the causes each of the fires the town has experienced in the last 8 months with information he said came from the county fire marshal.
Deviny and city officials as well don't want all the blame to fall on the firefighters themselves.
"Our volunteers do one hell of a job," Deviny said. "I don’t want that to be overlooked and get misinterpreted when all this goes on."
This story is developing. Check back for updates.