NBC10Philadelphia.com - Harry Hairston
Residents in a South Jersey community are angry over pictures of firefighters working on the roof of the town's mayor. As the town questions the appropriateness of the firefighters using tax-payer funded vehicles to drive to a non-emergency, both the mayor and the fire department are defending their actions. Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators have the story.
If you see a fire truck on your street, you expect to see a burning building. Recently however, residents in Pine Hill, New Jersey were surprised to see firefighters working an unusual job that had nothing to do with a fire.
On Good Friday (April 6), they spotted firefighters on the roof of Pine Hill Mayor Christopher Green’s home removing shingles. Four or five men were working on one section of the roof while one man was on the ladder and others appeared to work on the back of the roof.
“Firefighters should be in the fire department waiting for a fire, waiting for an emergency to happen,” said Pine Hill resident Linda Martino. “Not being on the mayor’s roof, roofing it.”
Neighbors took cell phone pictures of the firefighters at the mayor’s home and sent them to NBC10. Some of the pictures show their fire truck on the street in front of the property. John Schmidt, an advocate for open government in Camden County, says firefighters driving the fire truck to work on the mayor’s house send a bad message.
“That fire truck had mg plates,” said Schmidt. “That’s municipal government plates. That’s wrong. If you want to come over in your personal pickup truck and help your buddy out, fixing the roof on the holiday, that’s great. Don’t do it with tax payer equipment.”
Mayor Green appeared at a public meeting on April 16 where he defended himself and insisted he did nothing wrong. He claims the work was a favor to his 17-year-old son who is a junior firefighter.
“They drove the fire truck down to my house, so that if they got a call, they could go to the call,” said Mayor Green.
“What if they fell off your roof and couldn’t go to a call?” asked one resident during the meeting. “How are you going to explain that? Who was going to pay for them if they fell off your roof?”
“I would have paid for them,” answered Mayor Green. “When individual members ask for assistance they help each other.”
NBC10 also reached out to the Pine Hill Fire Department to get their side of the story.
“Regarding sending the apparatus with a full duty crew so that the truck will be at the ready, I feel I made the right decision and I’d make the same decision tomorrow,” said Pine Hill Fire Chief John Greer.
Chief Greer says he also helped work on the mayor’s roof.
“The fact is, and it’s all documented, that the mayor didn’t ask for this help, the fellow firefighter asked for this help and just happened to be the son of the mayor,” said Chief Greer.
The chief also claimed the firefighters could respond quicker to any fire since they were already together a few blocks from the fire house.
Only days after the NBC10 Investigators began asking questions, the township public safety director called for an internal investigation.
Late last week, former mayor and Pine Hill personnel director Fred Costantino led the investigation and says it focused on the chief’s decision. The report concluded the chief did nothing wrong.
“There was no misuse of the fire equipment,” said Costantino.
But not everyone is convinced.
“Well perception means everything,” said Schmidt. “It doesn’t look right. If it doesn’t look right then it’s not right. I mean it's common sense.”
Chief Greer says he might resign because he doesn’t like the fire department being used as a “political football.”