Former Fire Chief Anton Peskens is once again leading the Hoboken Fire Department after Fire Chief Brian Crimmins was put on administrative leave for unknown reasons. This comes the same week as Police Chief Ken Ferrante announced his upcoming retirement.
Peskens was officially sworn in as acting fire chief on Tuesday, May, 18, the same day Business Administrator Jason Freeman issued a memo to the city council informing them of Crimmins’s leave.
“Please be advised beginning today, Fire Chief Crimmins will be out on Administrative Leave,” states the memo. “In his absence, Battalion Chief Peskens will be in charge of the department.”
When asked why Crimmins was out on administrative leave, whether or not it was paid leave, and for how long, city spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri said, “The city does not comment on personnel matters.”
Crimmins did not respond to a request for comment. He has served as the city’s fire chief since he was sworn in October of 2018, following one year serving as provisional fire chief replacing Peskens.
Sources who spoke to the Reporter on the condition of anonymity suggested that the leave was the result of internal tension between the chief and the fire department’s battalion chiefs, which had been mounting over some time.
They said the city’s administration interviewed the chief about internal issues just before he was put on administrative leave, but they would not comment further as to what the issues were.
Other’s seemed to suggest that Crimmins was put on administrative leave for political reasons.
“The sudden and unexpected resignation of our police chief however, is concerning to me, especially after learning our fire chief was placed on administrative leave by the Mayor on the same day,” said Councilman Michael DeFusco in a series of Tweets. “I truly hope politics isn’t at play here, and the Mayor intends to keep these positions occupied by civil service employees who are uniquely qualified to lead our emergency service departments. The last thing we need is for the Mayor to appoint someone who serves at his pleasure in an effort to advance his own political career at the detriment of public safety in Hoboken.”
‘On the outs?’
‘According to another anonymous source, Crimmins has “been on the outs” with the administration.
Other firefighters have alleged political retaliation by the administration in the past.
Last Summer, Fire Captain Joseph Grossi Jr. sued the City of Hoboken, claiming the city discriminated against him and violated his constitutional rights when he was passed over for promotion to battalion chief.
According to the Aug. 21 legal filing, Grossi claimed he was passed over for promotion because he supported council candidates in the last election who were not part of Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s ticket.
It states that on March 9, Fire Chief Brian Crimmins requested a meeting with city officials to discuss temporarily promoting a battalion chief, because a battalion chief was retiring on May 1.
“During the meeting, the fire chief recommended [Grossi] for the position,” states the tort claim. “[Business Administrator Jason] Freeman responded by stating to [Grossi], in front of all in attendance, ‘We know where you were on Election Day.’… [Grossi] responded by asking what that had to do with anything. Freeman did not respond but instead changed the subject as to whether the temporary position was needed.”
The Hoboken Firefighters Union, IAFF Local 1076 of which Grossi is a board member, publicly and actively supported the mayor’s opposition for city council.
The city instead said that it selected the best person for the job.
Some have suggested that with both the police chief and fire chief positions in flux, that the city may reinstate the position of Public Safety Director, done away with in 2015 when then Public Safety Director Jon Tooke resigned.
When asked if the city is considering hiring someone for the role, Chaudhuri said: “Any future decision on personnel will be made at the appropriate time with full transparency provided to the public.”