Surf City Emergency Service Volunteers Answer the Call

Aug 15, 2018

With 348 calls under its belt as of Aug. 12, the Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. and EMS has responded to more calls this year than days have elapsed so far – or for the math-challenged, roughly 2.5 times more calls than days left in the year. For those counting, there are 138 days left as of today, Aug. 15.

“We’re on pace to do about 500 calls this year,” Peter Hartney, fire company president and a member of the Surf City Borough Council, said earlier this week. “The calls are more frequent during the summer, but things still happen in the winter. Fire alarms still go off; people still fall.”

The volunteer organization responded to 525 calls in 2017, he said. Any number of its calls can be mutual aid calls since the company responds to every fire call with the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co. to ensure there are enough people at the scene, he said. That agreement has been in effect for about 15 years, Hartney said, adding all of the volunteer emergency service organizations on the Island work well together.

“We get together to discuss issues as a regional service,” he said, noting they pooled their resources to share the cost of being a part of the Ocean County 911 system.

The county sends with all of the information the dispatcher obtains from the call via an email to pagers and cell phones.

“We have the latest technology and we share the cost,” Hartney said, noting Surf City also uses a fire siren to alert volunteers to an emergency response. “Being on an island with the signal coming all the way from Toms River, it doesn’t always work.”

The other major benefit of using the siren, which some homeowners and visitors have complained about across social media for the past few years, is that not every volunteer is in a safe place to read a pager or phone when an alert goes out.

“The siren provides the volunteer base the ability to get to a safe place to look at their phones,” he said, noting it has happened to him when he’s traveling back onto the Island. It’s also happened to him on the beach. “I don’t take my phone to the beach, but if I hear the siren, I know to look at my pager.”

While using the siren hasn’t changed, there have been some changes since Superstorm Sandy swept across the Jersey Shore nearly six years ago, he said.

“The biggest change is that everything is up in the air,” Hartney said, noting while the borough doesn’t have the volume of commercial building happening like that in neighboring Ship Bottom, the fire companies and first aid squads feel the impact all the same because of the mutual aid agreements.

Two decades ago, the largest buildings on the Island were Morrison’s Seafood Restaurant in Beach Haven, Wida’s Brant Beach Hotel and Restaurant, now daddyO Hotel and Restaurant, in Brant Beach, and the Quarter Deck, which is slated to become the largest commercial building on LBI. The site of The Stateroom since 2007, the building, located between Eighth and Ninth streets at the entrance to the Island, was demolished  to make room for the 105-room Hotel LBI. At 45 feet in the air, the building will be 5 feet higher than the previous structure.

Hotel LBI, currently under construction at the gateway to LBI, is one of several significant changes to the landscape of the Route 72 corridor. Another is the Arlington Beach Club, the 24-unit condominium complex also currently under construction, at the site of the vacated Exxon gas station at the Causeway Circle.

Like Hotel LBI, the Arlington Beach Club will be located between Eighth and Ninth streets. It will be bordered by Long Beach Boulevard to the east and Central Avenue to the west. The Causeway Circle will be reconfigured as a square once the state Department of Transportation completes its $312 million bridge project, slated tentatively for the summer of 2020, though the end date is predicated on weather and other outside factors.

The DOT’s proposed improvements in Ship Bottom include converting a section of Long Beach Boulevard, the main thoroughfare on the 18-mile Island, into a two-way road at the site of the Arlington Beach Club, according to state officials.

Changes in Ship Bottom’s skyline extend all the way to the oceanfront area around Ninth Street at the Drifting Sands Motel. The full scope of the plans for the 100-room motel aren’t known at this time. Blue Water Development, the Ocean City, Md.-based real estate development company specializing in commercial and hospitality properties, purchased the oceanfront facility for $12.5 million last summer.

With all the changes taking place, Hartney said, “the population shift (of newcomers to the Island) makes the assumption that this, fire and first aid, is what their taxes pay for. They don’t know we’re volunteer based.”

Surf City and Long Beach Township both contribute to the fire company’s budget. (The company covers the southern part of the North Beach section of the township.) Still, the bulk of funding comes through donations and community support at such events as the Farmer’s Market and the pancake breakfasts, he said.

“If the borough had its own (non-volunteer) fire service,” Hartney said, “just salary alone would be close to a million dollars. That doesn’t include time and grade, benefits, pensions, training, or trucks.”

After nearly four decades as an active volunteer, he said nothing he encounters surprises him anymore.

“I still expect to be surprised, but I am not,” Hartney said.

— Gina G. Scala

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