Friday, April 19, 2024

“Toxic” Facebook Inflaming Frelinghuysen Fire Dept. Debate

The Frelinghuysen Volunteer Fire Department has been a hot topic on Facebook. Photo by Joe Phalon.

Simmering disagreements over Frelinghuysen’s work-in-progress fire department threatened to boil over at last month’s township committee meeting as town officials fielded questions on cost and logistics. 

While no consensus was reached—or expected—there was one clear villain in the room: Facebook. 

Rumors suggesting the township was without adequate fire department coverage for a period in January apparently began on the social media site, where somebody asked if Frelinghuysen had signed its annual agreement with neighboring Blairstown for coverage. 

Mayor Keith Ramos said at the January 17 meeting the township was “never without coverage,” that month. He said that while the agreement with Blairstown was not formally inked, Blairstown was still dispatched to incidents under mutual aid provisions. 

Several residents wanted to know why Blairstown did not respond to a January 14 barn fire on Bear Creek Road, which was extinguished by firefighters from Green and Hope. 

Responding to social media rumors, Frelinghuysen Mayor Keith Ramos, right, said the township was never without fire coverage in January. Photo by Joe Phalon.

Ramos said Blairstown did not have enough people available for the call, so the mutual aid provisions were activated, and Green and Hope responded. 

According to the State Fire Deployment Act, mutual aid is separate from other standing contracts or agreements between departments and municipalities. Mutual aid is based purely on manpower needs. 

All necessary mechanisms are in place to assure mutual aid and fire protection coverage, Ramos said. He added that until Frelinghuysen announced it was going to build its own fire department, none of the covering fire departments asked for signed contracts. 

Saying he has always been accessible for questions, Ramos said he wished more people would engage him in face-to-face dialogue or even join him for a cup of coffee. 

“How many people do you think actually want to sit down and have a cup of coffee and speak about the fire department in these last three years?” Ramos asked. “Zero. Nobody. I’ve encouraged that. Even on Facebook. I said please, I’m accessible.”

Township resident Shannon Drylie said she has engaged with Ramos on Facebook and that he referred to her as “a toxic poster” spreading misinformation.

“We have a mayor on social media who chooses what questions he’s going to answer,” Drylie said, asking Ramos for an apology. 

“Thank you for that opinion,” Ramos said. “I emphatically disagree with it. I think that it was misleading.” 

Ramos did, however, agree with Drylie that the debates taking place on social media in general have driven the discussion down a troubling road.

Dale Durling, a former mayor of Frelinghuysen, directing a question to township attorney Richard Beilen, asked if the township itself is on Facebook. 

“What I see of Facebook is it’s toxic,” Durling said. “I don’t see any good coming out of it. Is there an obligation for this township to be on Facebook?”

Beilen emphasized that the township has no official presence on Facebook. 

“There’s nothing,” Beilen said. “There is no township committee Facebook page.”

Committee member Robert Stock attempted to draw some of the invective from Ramos. 

“To start the new fire department, it was not the mayor, it was the committee,” Stock said of the decision made in 2022. “All five of us were in unanimous agreement that we needed to do it because we could not fiscally be responsible for the increasing cost year after year after year.”

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.