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Wall Township, New Jersey

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History of Association

Chapter Seven

Boonton, New Jersey

The New Jersey Firemen’s Home (“the Home”) is located in Boonton, New Jersey. It provides long term care and residential care for firefighters of New Jersey. The Home is located on approximately eighty-one (81) acres with a rural farm-like setting, and includes a large Victorian type building, dormitories, recreational building and other buildings in which there is a firemen’s museum. (#1) Approximately eighty (80) guests can be accommodated. The Home is managed by a Board of Managers which is responsible for the care of the guests, hiring of the professional and nonprofessional staffs, and management of the buildings and grounds. It is regulated by the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies. (#2)

The Home was created by State Statute in 1898 (#3) and opened in June 1900 after the acquisition of the original home of Judge William Lathrop. The officers of the State Association, along with the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance, and the State Controller acquired the title to the property and then conveyed the same to the Board of Managers of the Home. (#4) Other lands were also acquired from the Jersey City Water Authority. (#5)

The original concept for a Firemen’s Home was advanced by members of the Hoboken Firemen’s Relief Association at the Eleventh (11th) Annual Convention of the State Association at Paterson, New Jersey on September 25, 1888. They proposed the Resolution:

“WHEREAS, Various States having Firemen’s Associations are adopting laws for the purpose of having homes for old and disabled firemen, be it therefore Resolved: That the subject of providing such a home in the state be referred to a proper committee for consideration.”

Upon passage of the Resolution the same was referred to the Executive Committee. (#6) No action was apparently taken by the Executive Committee as it never was reported in the Convention proceedings.

The President of the State Association, Bird W. Spencer, furthered the cause for a firemen’s Home in his remarks at the Nineteenth (19th) Annual Convention in Cape May, September 30, 1896. (#7) In his President’s Report he outlined his proposal and recommended the Governor of New Jersey oversee the Home and act as President thereof. He also recommended a Board of Managers to operate and manage the Home. He then requested the Executive Committee to prepare legislation for submission to the legislature. The following year, 1897, he appointed a Committee of Eleven (11), including himself as President, and the State Secretary and Treasurer, (two (2) firefighters) and “one (1) member from the Eight (8) Congressional Districts” to oversee the legislative process, and get the Home operational. This Committee suggested the purchase of land and buildings for the Home. They also recommended proposals for the financing of the Home from monies received through the two percent (2%) tax in the possession of the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance. These funds were collected by the Commissioner from foreign insurers writing premiums in municipalities without a Local Relief Association, and were received and retained by the Commissioner to be utilized for the annual operating cost of the Home. (#8) These two percent (2%) tax revenues were originally authorized under the 1885 Act and were collected and distributed equally to the then-existing Local Relief Associations. The Committee of Eleven (11), which also was referred to as the " Commissioners " was successful in obtaining legislation for the Home. (#9) Shortly thereafter Governor Briggs appointed the Commissioners as the first Board of Managers. They took title to the land and property in Boonton at a cost not to exceed seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000.00). Actually the property was acquired for thirty-six thousand dollars ($36,000.00). (#10) Additional funds were also needed for equipment and furnishings. The acquisition included financing by a purchase money mortgage from Judge Lathrop for twenty-nine thousand and nine hundred dollars ($29,900.00) and ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) from the funds in the possession of the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance. The mortgage was payable over a three (3) year period, at five percent (5%) interest rate. The yearly payments were ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) and the monies therefore were paid from the two percent (2%) tax receipts delivered to the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance. The acquisition and financing completed, the Commissioners turned the Home over to the Board of Managers and they opened the Home in June 1900. (#11) The Home became a reality.

The Home was run by the Board of Managers appointed by the Governor. They included the officers of the State Association, and other firefighters so named. (#12) Later the Board of Managers was changed to the number representing the New Jersey Congressional Districts, similar to the Executive Committee of the State Association. (#13) Several years later the number was again increased equal to the number of Executive Committeepersons for the State Association and elected to office by a vote at the State Convention. (#14) They are still elected at the State Convention.

The Home continued to expand and apparently had seven (7) major capital programs through the late 1970’s. (#15) These programs for expansion and the commensurate increase in the Home’s operating budgets required cooperation and communication between the Home and the State Association. The funding for both was and is the two percent (2%) tax on foreign insurance companies. (#16) The two percent (2%) tax was also utilized to fund the purchase of the Home using monies not allocated to municipalities with Local Relief Associations. The proceeds of the tax allocated to municipalities without such a Local Relief Association was retained by the Department of Banking and Insurance and the State Treasurer, (formerly “Controller”). The monies so retained were then distributed, first to the Home and any balance thereof to the State Association, (General Fund). (#17) These tax receipts were held in an account designated the “999 account” within the Department.

As the years progressed the number of municipalities with fire departments increased and correspondingly the number of Local Relief Associations increased. Thus the tax revenues increased for the Local Associations and decreased for the Home in the 999 account in the Department. This problem can be readily identified by the statistics shown at the Fiftieth (50th) and One Hundredth (100th) Anniversaries of the State Association. At the Fiftieth (50th) Annual Convention there were three hundred and eighty-nine (389) Local Associations. (#18) At the One Hundredth (100th) Convention there were four hundred and eighty-seven (487) such Associations. (#19) Today there are five hundred and thirty-seven (537) Associations within five hundred and sixty one (561) municipalities within the State.

The issue concerning the tax receipts and the funds necessary for the Home was not lost on the State officers and/or the State Executive Committee. Capital spending for the Home, for the first fifty (50) years seemed to require approval of the State Association because several such projects were submitted to the Convention delegates and life members for approval in 1925, (#20) 1934, (#21) and 1938, (#22) however, there did not appear to be such approval for expansion or capital expense in 1958. President Hasselhuhn and Joseph J. Schwark, President of the Board of Managers, both commented upon the subject at that Convention and the Home proceeded without apparent vote approval. (#23) The funding for the Home continued to be a concern to the State Association. President Ernest Greenwald often commented upon the issue and tried to address the same during his tenure. (#24) He requested joint meetings between the Executive Committee and the Board of Managers to address the funding problems and at least one such meeting occurred at the East Orange office on August 2, 1986. (#25) It was addressed in new legislation in 1997. (#26) This new legislation required the State Association to fund the operating budget for the Home, with the approval of the Governor. It also provided for certain capital expenditures and a review process for these projects, between the Home and the State Association, and if the parties disagreed an appeal and review process.

This new legislation essentially guaranteed the Home funding of its budget. As previously provided, the Home retained all funds from the 999 account, and any shortfall is provided by the State Association. This is occasioned with the new legislation because the State Association was now collecting all two percent (2%) monies directly from the foreign insurance companies, and neither the State of New Jersey nor the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) plays any role in the collections.

Routinely, the Home approves the budget, without input from the State Association, and then sends it to the Governor for approval. Once approved the State Association must fund the operating costs. Certain capital costs require State Association consent, and if consensus is not reached, the capital budget is referred to the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance for review and resolution.

Cooperation with the Home is sporadic, even though the President of the State Association is a member of the Board of Managers. Over the last several years the Executive Committee of the State Association has been unable to persuade the Home to consult with or review the budget with them. Unfortunately the budget for the Home seems to be escalating well in excess of the normal cost of living indices for the area. This causes concern because as of 2005 there are only sixty-five (65) long-term guests, and nine (9) residential guests. All guests are required to pay eight hundred and fifty dollars ($850.00) per month, unless they are indigent.

Chapter Eight


Exempt Firemen have traditionally been those firefighters who have served their community and fire company, for a specified period of time, generally seven

(7) years, eighty-four (84) months. The “Exempts” and the Exempt Firemen’s Associations are different from the Local Relief Associations and the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association and have separate laws governing them. Generally a firefighter is a member of both organizations. Both require the same tour of duty which is attendance at sixty percent (60%) of all regular fires and drills. The Exempt Firefighter obtains an Exempt Certificate after seven (7) years duty from the municipality in which his/her fire company is operational and part of that fire department. This certificate is then filed with the County Clerk and entitles the firefighter to certain benefits by statute. Those in the Local Relief Associations also serve seven (7) years duty, but get a Qualifying Certificate issued by the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association. The Exempt Firefighter or their Local or State Associations receive no financial support from either the State of New Jersey or the local municipality.

The history of the Exempt Firemen is somewhat entwined with the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association and is generally regarded as the “older” firefighters, almost exclusively volunteers, who completed their tour of duty and public service. Prior to 1885 when the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association was created their were many special and private acts creating fire companies. Also many fire departments created benevolent associations, relief associations, disability or like associations, to raise money, and in some cases collect the two percent (2%) tax on foreign insurance companies doing business in New Jersey. The first Act which was passed in 1826, and later Acts amending the same, became the main source of funding for the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association. Some of those private or special acts provided different duty requirements in order to achieve Exempt status and there appears to have been no uniformity throughout the fire service, almost exclusively volunteer companies, for the duty time to qualify.

The impetus for legislative action on behalf of the Exempt Firemen appears to have been precipitated by many of the larger municipalities such as Newark, Paterson, Trenton, and the like, who were organizing paid departments to replace the volunteer fire companies. Thus there was a scramble by the older firefighters to preserve their turf and to insure benefits for their years of service, and in some cases protect the funds in the benevolent, relief, or disability associations and the volunteer fire companies. The first such act appears to have been a generic provision providing for incorporation of fire companies. (#1) The following year the legislature passed the first act providing benefits for firefighters, exemption from jury duty and from serving in the militia during time of peace, for firefighters who served seven (7) years as a member of a fire company. This act was passed as a supplement to the act authorizing fire companies. (#2) Also this new act required the firefighter to file a certificate indicating he completed seven (7) years’ fire service with the County Clerk in order to qualify for the jury exemption.

Another benefit for the Exempt Firemen was a proposal to provide for a property tax exemption and such exemption was passed by the legislature in 1881. (#3) There may have been some problem with this initial legislation and at the Fifth (5th) Annual Convention of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association in Dover, New Jersey on September 26, 1883, a Resolution was adopted to tie the Exempt Firemen’s property tax exemption with the exemption of veterans of the National Guard. (#4) Also at this Convention a Resolution was adopted requesting the legislature to grant tenure rights which guaranteed firefighters no dismissal from the fire service in certain municipalities except for cause. (#5) Action was taken by the legislature on the property tax exemption and it passed in the 1885 session. (#6) No action was taken on the tenure act until years later. The property tax exemption came under attack and legal action was apparently taken to declare the act unconstitutional, (#7) but no reported case was found. At issue was municipal control of the fire department and some fire companies refused to submit to this control so the municipalities apparently would not give their Exempt Firefighters the tax benefit. (#8) Thereafter a new or revised property tax exemption bill, Assembly Bill A-227 was introduced by Assemblyman Feeney, on February 7, 1888. It passed that House, but was amended in the Senate and joined with or amended to include veterans of the Civil War. (#9)

The organization of a State Exempt Firemen’s Association was also a major topic of conversation among the firemen of the state and especially the Conventions of the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association in 1887 and 1888. Discussions and resolutions were moved on the Convention floor and thereafter the Executive Committee took action. (#10) This action may have been precipitated again by the Trenton Fire Department’s conversion to a paid department and the fight concerning monies and also the seating of Exempt Firemen on the Local Relief Association, apparently controlled by the paid firemen. The act authorizing the incorporation of Local and State Exempt Associations passed and became law in 1889. (#11)

This Act permitted the Exempt Firemen, “any number of fireman, not less than ten, who may be exempt pursuant to any general or specific law, to associate together and incorporate.” They were also given general corporate powers, including the right to elect officers, have a seal, perform and execute contracts and the like. The object of the Association was to provide for and maintain a fund for the “relief, support or burial of the members thereof, their widows and orphaned children.” (#12) There could be no more than one Exempt Association per municipality, and it authorized the creation of the State Exempt Association and provided for the election of delegates thereto. Amendments the following year defined an Exempt Fireman as one serving seven (7) years (#13) and authorized the Local Association to issue stock not exceeding fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00). (#14) Apparently the issuance of stock and general public solicitations were the only source of new income for the local Exempt associations because they did not have the sources of insurance premium taxes which were available to the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association.

The Exempt Firemen organized their state association in 1887 and elected R.M. Stites, Morristown, New Jersey, their first state President. The legal authority and state statute actually followed their state organization, however their First (1st) Convention was not until 1889, in Plainfield, New Jersey, the same year the state statute was passed. (#15)

Both the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association and the Exempt Firefighters continued to press the state legislature for additional benefits for firemen, especially the Exempt fireman. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the property tax exemption was the main focus and they had been successful in obtaining its passage. The act essentially provided for a property tax exemption of five hundred dollars, ($500.00). This created problems for the firefighters who had achieved Exempt status because people who were not Exempt or active firefighters were claiming they were firemen and filing for the tax exemption as firemen. Persons claimed they were firefighters, but there was no organized fire company in the municipality or, if there was, it was a bogus company with no firehouse, no equipment, nor drills or response program. They apparently had no membership qualifications. Many municipalities and the State Tax Commission were upset and rumors abounded about the tax frauds or loopholes. Apparently the Township of Cinnaminson in Burlington County was cited by the State Tax Commission which triggered an investigation. After the State investigation, these allegations proved to be mostly false, especially as far as Cinnaminson was concerned. (#16) The political pressure, however, was still on the state legislature to address this tax issue.

The legislature never repealed the Act, although several bills were introduced to that effect, but firemen being firemen they could not leave well enough alone and they brought suit against Rockaway Township and it’s officials because Rockaway refused to grant or recognize the tax exemption. In Tippett v. McGrath, Tax Collector of Rockaway Township, the Exempts pushed the envelope, against the advice of the Counsel for the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association who warned against the suit. He and President Spencer kept the State Association from joining or supporting the action. The New Jersey Supreme Court found the legislation unconstitutional. The decision also included the veterans of the Civil War and the State Militia. The Act violated Article 4, Section 7, Paragraph 12 of the State Constitution which provided that “all property” be assessed and “taxed equally”. The exemption was not levied against the property but granted tax exemption because of a person’s classification or designation such as fireman or veteran. This was the fatal flaw. (#17) The case was appealed to the higher Court of Errors and Appeals and that Court affirmed the lower Courts decision. (#18)

The firemen, ever diligent, pressed the legislature for some kind of financial assistance and were successful in getting passage of an Act which would pay active firemen twelve dollars ($12.00) annually for their service; however, this was discretionary with the municipality. (#19) Exempt firemen or firemen who had completed seven (7) years service were not included. There appears to be no record of how many firemen benefited.

The Exempts and older firemen seemed to be losing their power as they aged or died and the municipalities, the paid departments, the State Firemen’s Association, and other groups, became more involved or organized. They continued, however, to push for benefits and they were successful in getting legislative approval for exemption from procuring “peddlers” licenses from municipalities requiring such licenses, (#20) and also the first tenure act. (#21)

The tenure act applied to “any fireman of any volunteer fire department . . . who was holding a position or office under government of this State, or the government of any county, city, town, township or other municipality,” and “whose term of office is not fixed by law.” Generally this meant appointed without any termination date or for an unspecified duration. In such situation there could be no termination, change of position, demotion, or reduction in pay without cause. This normally required a complaint, list of charges, hearing and findings of fact and a determination identifying the basis of the cause. Currently most of these cases follow the procedures established by the Civil Service Commission and/or the Public Employees Relations Commission (‘PERC’). (#22)

Most of these Exempt Firefighters laws seem to have suffered from attrition or were either repealed outright or not reenacted when the new State Constitution was enacted in 1948. Possibly revision of old or obsolete statutes were redacted or removed by the Revisor of Statutes for the Legislative Services Commission. He may have recommended the removal as part of routine review by that office.

At the present time the laws provide only for the eligibility requirements of firemen wishing to attain Exempt status and the procedures for issuing Exempt certificates by municipalities and filing with the County Clerk in each respective county. The tenure provision and the vendors license are the only remaining benefits available to the Exempt firefighters. The tenure statute is usually avoided by most governmental entities by appointing for a specific term or authorizing a reduction in force of the department for valid reasons and not merely to terminate the fireman for political reasons, and then only in the same ratio as other employees. (#23) The vendor’s license is issued without cost and is valid for three (3) years. (#24)

The State Exempt organization exists as a statewide organization and presently has numerous local associations in the states municipalities affiliated with it. There is no enabling legislation other than the normal non-profit corporation law within this state, and there are no legislative prescriptions for the existence of the local Exempt Associations or their duties other than such association can choose a delegate to the New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention. (#25) The State Exempt Association still conducts a state Convention in a municipality where the fire department agrees to sponsor one. There is, however, no state office or repository for their records and no official obligations for its members or officers other than their Constitution and By-Laws. The New Jersey State Firemen’s Association office and staff assist the Exempts by keeping records of fires and drills and filing the Exempt Certificates with the County Clerks which are issued by the municipalities. The records for the Exempt Firemen are now included in the computer system of the State Association office. (#26)

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