Mayor to decide volunteer firefighter's future

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    WEST MILFORD-Volunteer Firefighter Michael Hughes vows a fight to clear his name and his dismissal from Community Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 and needs the mayor's help in winning his battle. Hughes must wait for Mayor Joseph Di Donato to decide his fate as one of the town's firefighters. Hughes was dismissed from his position as assistant chief on Dec. 14 at an executive committee meeting led by Chief Jeff Schnebelen. This sacking came after almost three months of accusations and charges placed against Hughes. On Sept. 28 Hughes worked a fire at Pierce Road and says he carried out his duties properly based on 10 years experience as a volunteer firefighter. A short time later, on Oct. 5, Hughes was brought up on charges of gross negligence regarding the incident management system and suspended by the fire company's executive committee. Hughes appealed to the West Milford Fire Chiefs Association, headed by Chief Timothy Struble, and on Nov. 15 at a hearing Hughes was cleared of all charges. However, Chief Schnebelen ruled the appeal ineffective without ratification by Mayor Di Donato. The town code calls for the mayor to have final say in whether a volunteer firefighter regains his or her place after suspension. Hughes plead his case at the township council meeting on Dec. 15, but was unable to obtain a ruling as Di Donato was absent from the meeting. To fan the flames further, Community Fire Company passed a motion dismissing Hughes on Nov. 23, on an additional charge of "having a bad attitude and rule breaking." Hughes said, "I have never had disciplinary procedures brought against me before on this matter." Hughes also said, "The chief has never explained the charges and I don't know exactly what he is referring to by "bad attitude" and "rule breaking." "I believe it is a personal thing now," Hughes said. Hughes lives with his wife and two children adjacent to the fire house on Route 23 . Hughes' wife, Sharon, said, "It has been very upsetting for us all. Our children play around the firehouse and are hearing things said by other children about this." Sharon Hughes added,"Right now we just want to see the whole thing cleared up." Hughes said, "I'm just trying to be a fireman and I don't want to be trouble to anyone." Several attempts were made to contact Chief Schnebelen but calls were unreturned. Those at the firehouse would only say, "Chief Schnebelen won't be around for a month or so." At the council meeting, Councilman William Gervens, who was standing in for the mayor, said, "Volunteers are the most important thing we have." Gervens would, however, take no action on the matter deferring the final decision to Di Donato. Mayor Di Donato must now decide whether to reinstate Hughes or uphold the company's dismissal.