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Pascack Valley Daily Voice serves Emerson, Hillsdale, Montvale, Park Ridge, River Vale, Washington Township, Westwood & Woodcliff Lake

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DV Pilot police & fire

Hillsdale councilman who angered firefighters with drinking remark resigns

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT FIRST: Hillsdale freshman Councilman Joseph “Rod” Capawana resigned around noon today, a week after he angered volunteer firefighters with a comment he made about them drinking at the firehouse.

Department heads were notified of his resignation shortly after Capawana, who was the borough fire commissioner, visited the borough administrator today.

During a council meeting last Tuesday, Capawana said the firefighters “do a lot of training over there — and a lot of drinking.” ( SEE: Hillsdale firefighters angry after fire commissioner says they ‘do a lot of drinking’ )

In a story published by a local newspaper, Mayor Max Arnowitz insisted Capawana’s comments were “blown out of proportion” and that people were making a big deal about nothing.

He apparently didn’t understand the extent and depth of the anger.

He did last night, when a large contingent of the volunteer department’s firefighters attended a council meeting seeking an apology.

Capawana wasn’t there, however.

He did write a letter to Fire Chief Mark Durst, in which he said he “observed the consumption of alcoholic beverages” during department meetings.

“If an emergency call had come in during any of these times and something unforeseen occur, with alcohol being a factor, the liability to the town as well as any individual who knew drinking takes place at the Fire Department, would be considered gross negligence,” Capawana wrote.

He apologized, acknowledging that his remark was “perhaps insensitive to the feelings of the Fire Department.” But he said he supports an ordinance prohibiting anyone from drinking on borough property.

Firefighters said that wasn’t enough, given the damage they said Capawana did to their credibility, particularly given that they are volunteers who must rely in large part on donations. They also said they likely would have reacted differently if he apologized to them in person.

The mayor and council were discussing several topics last week, including a plan to have sensitivity training for all borough employees and volunteers. Toward that end, Arnowitz agreed to have a meeting with the firefighters — but only at Borough Hall, “where there’s no alcohol,” he said.

Capawana also made his remark, which became the primary bone of contention.

Both comments were recorded from a live broadcast of last week’s public meeting and reviewed by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“Out of thousands or man hours we put in, that’s what they say about us?” one firefighter said.

“We depend on donations from the public,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , “and the public is being told by its fire commissioner that we’re drunks?”

Cresskill recently added $240,000 to its budget for a paid department, and that’s for only Monday through Friday during the day.

“[Hillsdale officials] have budget problems now,” a local firefighter said. “Imagine if they had to go to a paid department.”

Hillsdale’s emergency service workers were already upset over talk of a possible switch in dispatching to the Bergen County Communications Center in Mahwah.

Another controversy is swirling in town over that plan:

Police chief says Hillsdale council violated Sunshine Law

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