Nearly half of Leonia's firefighting department fired

Lucy Yang reports from Leonia.
March 3, 2014 8:30:33 PM PST
There's a shake up at a fire department in New Jersey.

Like so many others, this one is volunteer. But nearly half the firefighters of the Leonia Fire Department, 24 of them, have been given their walking papers.

A series of unfortunate and scandalous events sparked the upheaval.

"Turn in your gear. Your services are no longer needed," a firefighter read.

70-year-old Charles Germain has given 45 years, more than half his life, to Leonia as a volunteer firefighter. Monday morning he got a letter basically saying was fired.

"I never thought I'd ever see the mayor and council make a 70-year-old man cry," Germain said.

Leonia council members recently passed an ordinance ordering all volunteer firefighters to get a new physical and pass a background check.

"A hostile work environment," a firefighter said.

For Lt. Arnold Davenport, it isn't that easy. He has a marijuana offense from Rhode Island more than 18 years ago.

He says he put that on his application and for the last 16 years has been trying to help the residents of Leonia.

"After 16 years of straight service I would have hoped they have more to hold in my favor than against me," Lt. Davenport said.

At an animated meeting Monday night, the mayor and council insisted their goal is not to fire these public servants, but to keep everyone safe.

Last summer, a firefighter's toddler was molested at the firehouse, not by one of the volunteers, but that incident has certainly added to the tension.

"Were trying to be as accommodating as possible and to extend another week so they can go out and get this," said Greg Makroulakis, a council member.

"I live in the town too and I sleep good night," said John deSimone, Mayor of Leonia.

"You don't worry?" Eyewitness News reporter Lucy Yang asked.

"I don't worry," deSimone said.

"Who will fight the fires?" Yang asked.

"The firefighters here," deSimone said.

The firefighters are now being given another week to get their physical.

Those with a criminal record like Arnold Davenport are being told to have their record expunged.

There are multiple lawsuits flying between this fire house and Borough Hall.

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