Sea Isle City backs the fire chief in a dispute with the state over his certification to lead the fire department.

By Maddy Vitale

The leadership of the Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Department has been changed following a state review that showed some senior members did not have proper certification.

Sea Isle officials issued a press release Tuesday saying at no time was public safety at risk and that it was a lack of paperwork and certification involving high-ranking positions.

The release was in response to an story in which the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs stated that three senior members of the city’s volunteer fire department, Chief Frank Edwardi Sr. and assistant fire chiefs, Mike Tighe and Mike Ryan, lacked proper certification.

“Earlier this year, some of those found not to have New Jersey Division of Fire Safety (NJDFS) certifications had previously held leadership positions within the SICVFD (Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Department),” the statement said. “In the interim, arrangements were made with two of Sea Isle City’s neighboring mutual aid fire departments to ensure the City had proper supervision at fire scenes until the City’s administration could obtain its own certified, independent leadership structure within the SICVFD.

The release continued, “At no time was there any threat to public safety while this certification process was taking place. Most SICVFD volunteers have many years of firefighting experience whether they had the required certifications or not. There were temporary procedures put in place to ensure the City’s firefighting efforts were following the required standards.”

The change in leadership follows four major fires in Sea Isle in nine months, including one resulting in the death of an 89-year-old woman at her home on 54th street.

In the statement, the city said, “It is also important to note that the recent fires that have occurred in Sea Isle City during the past nine months had nothing to do with the SICVFD’s certification process. Each of those fires were independently investigated and determined to be caused by non-criminal acts that were unrelated to the lack of updated paperwork being obtained by Sea Isle City’s firefighters.”

The fire department has been under scrutiny by residents who have been coming to City Council meetings urging the governing body to replace the volunteers with a paid department having full-time members. City officials have told residents they will consider ways to improve fire safety, but have not made any commitments to having a paid department.

The release stated that, “The City of Sea Isle City and the Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Department have and will always make public safety a number one priority.”

According to the city’s statement, the determination that the ranking firefighters did not have the proper paperwork or certification came after a review of an Easter fire.

An Easter fire destroyed two adjacent bayfront duplexes on 75th Street.

“During the review of the overall response to this year’s fire on Easter morning, the City sought the assistance of the Cape May County Fire Marshal and the Cape May County Fire Coordinators, who are a resource for municipal fire departments. During this review, the topic of training and certifications arose, and soon after it was discovered that many of the SICVFD’s volunteers did not have their certification(s) properly updated with the N.J. Division of Fire Safety, which is the certifying agency for all firefighters in New Jersey.”

Since the review, the city and the fire department took quick action to obtain the existing training certificates from each city firefighter, according to the statement.

“At all times, competent leadership has been in place at the SICVFD, and certified leadership is presently in place,” the statement reads.

As of June 27, the city has 33 firefighters who are certified through the NJDFS, with many of those volunteers possessing various additional certifications.

Among those 33 firefighters, eight are certified in “Incident Command” and can hold leadership positions within the SICVFD, the release said.

“Mayor (Leonard) Desiderio and the City’s administration are grateful for each of Sea Isle City’s volunteer firefighters and their commitment to serving this community,” the statement reads.