MAYOR THOMAS RANDALL Community letter with an important UPDATE regarding the Fire Department

Dear Residents of Ho-Ho-Kus:

This past September residents received correspondence from the Ho-Ho-Kus Volunteer Fire Department referencing an incident that occurred in the Fire House in December 2021.  This was a serious incident, which could have had a significant impact on our community.

As the matter was then pending before a hearing officer for a recommendation to the Governing Body, the Borough refrained from responding to it until a decision was reached. However, I indicated that once this matter was resolved, an accounting of the matter would be provided to our residents.  On January 20th of this year the hearing officer, Retired Superior Court Judge Menelaos W. Toskos, R.J.S.C., rendered his findings, conclusions and recommendations to the Governing Body.

Our residents should know that the incident referenced occurred in December of 2021, where the Borough was informed by the Ridgewood Police Department that a probationary Ho-Ho-Kus fireman had been arrested for DWI in the early hours Saturday morning after leaving our Firehouse. Video evidence indicated that he had left the Firehouse at approximately 5:30 a.m.  Multiple pieces of property damage had occurred in Ho-Ho-Kus and Ridgewood. This series of events took place in the aftermath of a Fire Department social event. Upon receiving this information, the Borough had no choice other than to undertake a full investigation to find out what happened and to ensure it would not happen again.  The Borough also wanted to understand from the Fire Department what leaders were present leading up to this serious event.  A determination regarding the circumstances of this incident, and any persons involved, was further needed to ensure that proper measures were in place.  A failure to investigate and to take remedial action would potentially leave the Borough exposed to liability should something similar happen in the future. 

To that end however, Ho-Ho-Kus gave the Fire Department an opportunity to conduct the investigation and to provide its findings as to the underlying circumstances.  Unfortunately, the Borough did not receive the requested cooperation, and was met with resistance from the incoming Chief, Scott McDermott. After several further requests for co-operation, charges were reluctantly filed against Mr. McDermott by the Borough and regrettably, this matter proceeded to a hearing after the Borough’s efforts in getting to the bottom of the incident were unsuccessful.

As a result of Judge Toskos’s findings and conclusions sustaining charges after a multi-day hearing, on January 31st, the Council convened at a Special Meeting to discuss the findings and recommendations. Upon deliberation, the Borough decided the only appropriate course of action based on such findings, and for the safety of our residents, was Mr. McDermott’s expulsion from the Department.

The Governing Body did not take this matter lightly and it is unfortunate we were presented with this series of events.  The actions of Mr. McDermott do not represent the committed principles of our public safety volunteers, who have continued to serve our residents.  However, Ho-Ho-Kus, at all times, remains committed to providing first class public safety services to our community and it is with regret that the instant actions must be taken.

Any further inquiry on the record of this matter should be directed to the Borough Clerk.

Mayor Thomas W. Randall