On May 28, Audra Carter made Hoboken Fire Department history by becoming the first female battalion chief , but the momentous decision was not without controversy as union representatives and some council members questioned the promotion.
“This decision by the mayor of course comes with noise, passing over the highest ranked candidates seemingly because of their support of non Team Bhalla candidates,” said Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher in a statement.
According to Civil Service, two individuals were ranked higher on the list than Carter for the promotion. According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the highest ranked candidate contributed to the reelection campaign of Councilman Ruben Ramos in 2019.
Fisher’s assertion aside, she said, “A huge congratulations to our new Battalion Chief Audra Carter (who happens to share her unusual name with my sister)!”
City spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri, meanwhile, said Mayor Ravi Bhalla chose Carter simply because she was the best candidate for the job.
“Battalion Chief Carter was chosen by Mayor Bhalla for promotion due to her outstanding qualifications, and 18 years of experience in the fire department, more than any other applicant,” Chaudhuri said. “He chooses to celebrate this historic occasion for what it truly is – the first woman to achieve the rank of Battalion Chief in 171 years.”
Local 1076 which, represents Hoboken Fire Officers, seeks to have the higher ranked candidates “made whole” by also promoting them to battalion chief. The union opposes the process that promoted Carter instead of promoting the top candidate on the Civil Service Eligibility List.
Civil service list rules
“The Hoboken Fire Officers Local 1076 takes a strong position in following the civil service list,” said Bernie Grilletti, president of the union. “I’ve been a member of the Hoboken Fire Department for 19 years, and during the past 19 years, and probably before that, promotions have been done based on ranking of the civil service list. The only exception to that was if any disciplinary action was taken, and with candidates one and two no disciplinary action has been taken against them.”
Grilletti said the union has no problem with Carter, stating “I have nothing against candidate number 3. It’s just the process we have a problem with. There is nothing against her at all. She is a dues paying member. Our concerns are just about this promotional process the city decided to change.”
However, Chaudhuri said the mayor has the statutory right to choose from the list of applicants who qualify for the job as past mayors have done.
“Mayors in Hoboken for decades have exercised the statutory ability, given Hoboken’s form of government, to choose from a list of qualified applicants, after a thorough review which includes a review of qualifications and experience, for promotion,” Chaudhuri said. “Battalion Chief Carter had more years of experience than any other candidate for the position. Along with many other qualifications and excellent knowledge of Hoboken Fire Department procedures, Mayor Bhalla concluded that Ms. Carter was the best applicant for the job.”
Chaudhuri further stated that how a candidate scores on the civil service test is just one part of what the mayor takes into consideration.
“Those who score highest on tests are many times not chosen after a consideration of a number of factors, which has in fact been the case many times with promotions in both the Hoboken Police Department and Hoboken Fire Department…” he said.
Grilletti said the union is in discussions with the city to define the process and promote the other two fire captains who have been in the HFD for more than 15 years, saying that the pair are “upset with the process.”
According to Grilletti, the HFD’s current table of organization calls for seven battalion chiefs but “we would like to get it raised to nine to provide two additional spots for candidates 1 and 2.”
Introducing Battalion Chief Carter
Audra Carter is an 18-year veteran of the HFD, having served as a firefighter for ten years and as a fire captain since 2011.
Throughout her career, she displayed expertise in modern fire suppression and fire prevention principles, marine rescue, emergency preparedness, and emergency medical services, according to the city.
As a fire captain, Carter was responsible for leading and participating in emergency responses, including fires, rescues, accidents, medical situations, and other hazardous conditions. She was also responsible for ensuring calls for service were responded to in a safe and timely manner.
She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2000 with a B.S. in Business Administration. She graduated from the Bergen County Fire Academy in 2003 and achieved a “U.S. of America Merchant Marine Credential” from the Nautical School of New York.
She holds certification in CPR & First Aid; Incident Management System (I-100, I-200, I-300); IS-700 National Incident Management System; Hazardous Materials Awareness and Operations; and Hazardous Materials Incident Analysis.