Last week, the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the national League of Municipalities, and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs took the time to honor the NHRFR for its "exemplary" service since five participating local municipalities joined forces to form one fire protection service in 1999.
Each of the five mayors of the participating towns received awards at the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City.
The NHRFR received the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs 2002 Innovation in Government Award for exemplary Quantitative Safety Project.
It marked the first time that an award was presented in this category.
The awards were presented with over 500 New Jersey mayors in attendance at the mayor's luncheon at the convention.
The NHRFR was picked over 20 municipalities that submitted applications for this inaugural competition. The award was based on a number of criteria, including how the program increased security, community response, safety and/or emergency management, as well as the feasibility of implementation in other municipalities.
"We are proud to have been recognized by the N.J. Department of Community Affairs for our dedicated efforts toward the safety of the residents we protect," said Robert Aiello, the chairman of the NHRFR's Management Committee and a retired West New York fire chief. "We have effectively increased safety while controlling costs. We hope to be an example to other municipalities who are considering regionalization."
Some of the award-winning mayors also applauded the award.
"I thought it was a very nice gesture," North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said. "It made me feel good that we were recognized. I chaired two different committees at the league three years ago on regionalization and how effective it could be. I'm glad that the state has recognized that the NHRFR has moved to the forefront of effective governmental organizations throughout the state."
"I think it's just another affirmation of the success of the regional," said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who serves on the NHRFR's Executive Board. "We're becoming more and more recognized. Right now, it's the third largest fire department in the state. This award was significant because it came from not only the league, but the national league and the state DCA. It's to everyone's credit, the firefighters, the management, the elected officials, and the residents."
Since the NHRFR was launched in 1999, it has had an immediate positive impact for the approximately 200,000 residents it serves.
Regionalization combined the fire departments of five municipalities (North Bergen, West New York, Union City, Weehawken, and Guttenberg), providing more efficient services and cutting costs.
First alarm fire response capability has increased nearly 60 percent since regionalization began, with a reduction of multiple-alarm fires by 50 percent and a decrease in response time on average of 20 percent.
A fire boat, a technical rescue unit, improved deployment of equipment, and personnel now serve residents, as well as other innovations the individual departments were unable to provide on their own.
It has saved taxpayers approximately $3 million annually and provided tax relief in the form of tax credits, courtesy of the state REAP (Regional Efficiency Aid Program), which benefits state municipalities that have shared services like the NHRFR.
West New York Mayor Albio Sires said that he was also proud that the regional was presented with the award.
"A lot of hard work went into seeing the regional through," Sires said. "There was a risk factor, because we were going into the world of the unknown. But we felt that it was the best thing that could happen for our community and we were able to save so much money. In West New York, we had the worst equipment, so it was a grand slam for the people of West New York."
Sires said that as the State Assembly Speaker, he plans on bringing the concept to Trenton so other municipalities throughout the state can recognize how financially and structurally efficient the regional plan is.
"This is something that is a shining example," Sires said. "If we were able to do this so successfully in a condensed and congested area like Hudson County, then you could argue that it could be done anywhere. The state is very strong on home rule, but this is a way you can give it up to make it work."
Sires, Sacco, Turner, and Guttenberg Mayor David Delle Donna were on hand to receive their awards on behalf of their respective municipalities. Only Union City Mayor Brian Stack was not present to receive his award.