Hunterdon’s newest public safety director outlines goals for helping the community NJ.COM
For as long as he can remember, Brayden Fahey has wanted to be the first line of defense for those made defenseless by a medical crisis, natural disaster or other dire situation. “I’ve always had an interest ever since I was a child in emergency services, specifically EMS (Emergency Management Services),” Fahey said. “There’s something that pulled me into wanting to serve on an ambulance and serve the community and our fellow citizens.” While no longer a member of local EMS squads, Fahey has recently been promoted to a role that will allow him to serve his community in greater ways than ever before. In December 2020, Fahey was appointed to the role of acting public safety director for Hunterdon County following the retirement of George Wagner after a 40-year career with the county. The promotion, which has awarded Fahey with a $99,000 annual base salary, represents what he describes as a “natural progression” in his career. Fahey joined the Flemington-Raritan First Aid & Rescue Squad at age 16 and dedicated his time to other various county EMS agencies throughout his early 20s until 2011, when he earned a full-time position with Hunterdon County as its emergency management coordinator. In his new title, Fahey retains oversight over the county’s Department of Public Safety, inheriting responsibility for the County Communications (911) Division as well as the Emergency Management Division, the Office of the County Fire Marshal, the Emergency Services Training Center, and Homeland Security. Fahey is balancing the responsibilities of the Office of Emergency Management coordinator with his new role as the county’s public safety director — and intends to do so indefinitely, he said. “I think the work that I’ve done and the relationships that I’ve built as the emergency management coordinator lend well to serving in this role as the department director as well,” Fahey said. “It also needs to be said that we have a really good team within our department ... (which) also allows for me to function in both capacities.” As the county’s emergency management coordinator for the past 10 years, Fahey has influenced a number of projects designed to improve the quality of life for Hunterdon residents. His office recently concluded a flood buyout program operated in collaboration with Warren County, for which the counties used a $7 million grant to purchase properties prone to flooding to both help “folks that are truly burdened by flood insurance” and diminish the number of flood-related 911 calls. He also helped to implement a new staff ambulance response policy in the county that expedited the response time to 911 calls, and recently pushed forward the construction of a burn training facility, the first phase of the evolution of the county’s Emergency Services Training Center. Moreover, Fahey has collaborated heavily with the county’s Department of Health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “(We have) developed 911-taking guidance for our dispatchers, guidance to our first responders on PPE and such,” Fahey said. “And we’ve had a tremendous PPE program in which we were able to provide items to them and also healthcare institutions and long-term care facilities when they weren’t able to get it from anywhere else.” Fahey largely credits his success in emergency services to the relationships he’s built throughout his many years servicing the county — which has only better prepared him to serve in his new role. “If you collaborate and work together, I’m of the opinion you’re going to find success no matter what the industry is,” Fahey said. “And that’s what we’ve tried to work on over the last ten years; forming relationships and bonds and sustaining them and putting them in a position to flourish.” Looking forward, Fahey identified his top priority to be ensuring the department’s systems and programs “operate at the highest possible level,” at all levels, including dispatchers, the emergency services training center, entry-level firefighters and EMS personnel. “The mission of our department, whether it’s emergency management or the 911 communications center, is to service that first line of defense when someone is having the worst moment in their life,” Fahey said. “So my number one goal is to ensure that we have a well-functioning program that can meet that expectation the public has for us, and that’s in the way our dispatchers train and perform, in the way our emergency services center falls under the county’s Office of Emergency Management.” In establishing this goal, Fahey emphasized that he will prioritize the improvement of the department’s systems and technology wherever necessary so that its programs can “integrate seamlessly together.” He also said he hoped to grow the number of professional development and training opportunities available in his department, as well as expand its community outreach by strengthening the department’s relationship with other organizations and with the public in general. “I think there’s a really good opportunity to interact with the public a lot more than we do now. And I think we do a nice job of that, in trying to ensure the public has the information that we need on various things that affect them,” Fahey said. “We’ll go out and speak to anyone that asks us to, quite honestly — we’ve also done a lot on the emergency management side to get groups to the table that we may not at one point considered ... the United Way of Hunterdon County, Hunterdon Helpline, and several other organizations to form a Community Organizations Active in Disaster program.” On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fahey said he has begun working with the Department of Human Services and other groups to provide food insecurity relief throughout the county, which he hopes to further escalate. “Everything we’re learning from that would lend to other types of emergencies and disasters. People being displaced from their homes, we would need a solid, feeding plan for them,” Fahey explained. “So there’s been opportunities to look at this in an all-hazards approach ... and begin to make some enhancements and improvements to our plan as we carry through beyond just COVID.” Fahey said he will also seek to continue aiding local EMS departments, many of which are struggling with increasing their volunteer numbers. “Our first responder and emergency service organizations were reliant for so many years on volunteerism, and the volunteer base just isn’t there anymore,” Fahey said. “And we’re trying to find creative solutions and ways to combat that.” In recognizing that responding to emergencies has only grown more complex as technology evolves and more services become available, Fahey nonetheless expressed his determination to continue helping others — which he believes he can do more effectively than ever before from his “10,000-foot view” above the county’s emergency services. “If we look at that emergency occurring, it’s from the time the 911 call was placed, to the time the person has a medical issue, to the time they’re brought to definitive care,” Fahey said. “And we’re trying to bring all the different groups together and different representatives together to ensure we’re doing it in the best manner possible ... delivering the highest level of service to our residents and visitors that we can.”
HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - Preparedness for the epic winter storm expected to hit New Jersey Wednesday was discussed at the final Hunterdon County government meeting of 2020, less than 24 hours before the state was expected to see initial blasts of snow.
Hunterdon County’s Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Brayden Fahey phoned in to the Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting Dec. 15, and said he and his OEM colleagues have been in communication with the National Weather Service’s Mt. Holly Forecast Office, receiving updates on Winter Storm Gail’s trajectory and potential impacts since Dec. 11. Conference calls have taken place with both the NWS and the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management for the most up-to-date information and analysis of the storm’s path, as well as to ensure statewide preparedness, emergency management and response efforts between county and state agencies for this expected winter weather event.
Updates have also been relayed to municipalities’ administrative offices as well as first responders at the local levels across the 26 Hunterdon County municipalities, plus municipal OEM divisions, school administrators and other organizations.
Fahey said the snow is expected to develop steadily during daylight hours on Wednesday afternoon and then accumulate to a total of between 12 and 20 inches in northern and western New Jersey, tapering off by Thursday afternoon. He noted the potential hazardous situations that will be created Wednesday with wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour or more accompanying the snowfall.
“Beginning Wednesday afternoon, the snow is expected to become heavy and stick,” he said. “The snowfall would impact the Thursday morning commute as the storm is not expected to taper off until Thursday afternoon hours. The National Weather Services advises that travel within the county could be extremely difficult or even impossible.”
One major consideration for Hunterdon County OEM and officials statewide, with potential for dangerous roadway conditions, is the Jugtown Mountain section of Interstate 78, what Fahey called “a known problem spot during severe winter storms.” Additionally, power outages are possible due to the combination of heavy snow with strong winds. “We are urging the public to ensure they are prepared now,” he said.
If a State of Emergency is declared in New Jersey due to the winter storm, it may not necessarily restrict travel, Fahey noted. He has overseen communications between OEM and the Hunterdon County Department of Public Safety, as well as the Department of Human Services, specifically its Transportation Division to monitor activities and ridership on the LINK bus transit system.
The last LINK bus boarding time on Wednesday was slated for noon so that the vehicles (and the residents occupying them, as well as drivers) can safely leave area roadways for the duration of the snowstorm. Information and updates on LINK bus operations will be available on the website, RidetheLink,com, and related social media accounts.
In addition to the snowfall in the forecast for Hunterdon County and most of the state and Northeast U.S. region between Philadelphia and Boston, Fahey updated county officials on the Code Blue declaration going into effect until at least Thursday afternoon. Code Blue nights are able to be declared when temperatures outside drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. New state legislation requires counties or municipalities to pay for shelters for homeless populations during Code Blue events.
Throughout the duration of this week’s snowstorm, county OEM coordinated with the Hunterdon County Department of Human Services and the county-contracted nonprofit organization Hunterdon Helpline to keep Hunterdon County warming centers open “throughout the duration of this event,” Fahey said. This Code Blue declaration is guaranteed to last until, at the very earliest, mid-day on Thursday.
To address aiding the county’s local municipalities with their budget constraints, in September, Hunterdon County’s governing body authorized Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren to execute a provider services contract with Hunterdon Helpline for the provision of a Code Blue Warming Center for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. The funding amount for the one-year period is $29,640.
Additional funding for an excess of 80 Code Blue nights is conditioned upon funding availability and level of service achievement, per the resolution approved in September.
Fahey noted that 911 usage should be reserved for only “true emergency situations,” and residents of Hunterdon County, if they are seeking assistance with locating shelter or any other needs before, during and after the storm should not call 911. They can call Hunterdon Helpline instead, at 908-782-4357 or check out www.helplinehc.org for more information.
Of note, as part of their Dec. 15 meeting agenda, the freeholder board approved a $162,800 grant with state funding from the New Jersey Department of Human Services Division of Family Development, of which $50,000 was included for Code Blue program provisions, specifically for the period of Jan. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021. The grant’s remaining $112,800 was allocated to the county to assist families and individuals at risk of homelessness and those who are ineligible for Work First New Jersey (TANF, SSI or GA) Emergency Assistance with the costs of shelter, rent and utilities.
Fahey also announced that word came in from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) that Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has requested mutual aid assistance from utility crews in Ohio in order to coordinate snowstorm response in New Jersey.
HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - From a surge in Hunterdon County residents picking up food at the Flemington Area Food Pantry to guidance on applying for assistance with utility payments and the Code Blue cold weather homelessness outreach with Hunterdon Helpline, the county is keeping abreast of social issues and creative solutions to help those in need as the COVID-19 pandemic, business and workplace closures have impacted many western New Jersey residents.
The economic downturn in the state has resulted in some alarming statistics at the local level, though among New Jersey counties north of the state capitol, Hunterdon has one of the lowest homeless populations.
Deputy Freeholder Director Susan Soloway updated her colleagues and the community on the Hunterdon County Department of Human Services initiatives, including outreach for families and individuals in need as the holidays, winter weather and new year approaches.
Soloway said that over 400 newly enrolled Hunterdon families are now serviced by, and participating in receipt of donations from, the Flemington Food Pantry, none of whom required the assistance prior to the pandemic. She explained this as "disturbing information to report, due to the state's economy being shut down."
The Freeholder Board has had heavy criticism for Gov. Phil Murphy’s choices and executive orders related to economic measures and impacts statewide. Soloway noted the troubling ripple effect of economic halts seen throughout the state.
“People are out of work,” she said. “They can be driven into poverty as more and more businesses close, and there’s a greater pressure on Social Services to serve as a safety net for individuals who, through no fault of their own, have been caught up in the overly-cautious reopening of the state. Another area where people are out of work or seriously stressed is the payment of utility bills. Now that the colder weather is here, we all know that keeping the heat on is very important. The good news is that the State of New Jersey Utilities’ Shut Off Moratorium has been extended and customers are urged to contact their utility providers to make payment arrangements.”
According to a press release from the governor’s office on Oct. 15, Murphy signed an executive order extending the moratorium by six months, through at least March 15, 2021, preventing New Jersey residents from having their utilities disconnected. The moratorium is applicable to all residential gas, electric and water utilities, both public and private, according to the governor’s office.
Soloway spoke about resources for utility payment assistance available to residents through Social Services.
Residents can call NORWESCAP Housing and Energy Services at 908-454-4778, to learn about the qualifications for utility assistance. Norwescap provides several assistance programs, including its LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program); Weatherization Assistance Program; the “USF” Universal Service Fund; and a Safe & Affordable Housing program to pursue utilities payment assistance. Eligibility information is available online at Norwescap.org.
In addition, Soloway announced that the County Division of Social Services can be reached at 908-788-1300 for further information on utilities assistance.
Soloway also commented on the Code Blue program through the Hunterdon Helpline contract the board approved at a previous meeting, which sheds more light on socioeconomic problems people are facing in the area.
In September, authorization was unanimously approved for Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren to execute a provider services contract with Hunterdon Helpline for the provision of a “Code Blue Warming Center” for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021, and allocated $29,640 in funding. Van Doren said that changes to state legislation “moved Code Blue declarations from 25 degrees to 32 degrees.”
“When a Code Blue is declared based upon weather predictions, the law requires that some type of warming stations be activated for the homeless, no matter how few there are,” he said last month.
As part of that board approval, additional funding for an excess of 80 code blue nights is “expressly conditioned upon funding availability and level of service achievement,” the September resolution said.
Soloway reported that, at the start of the year, and notably taking place over a pre-pandemic timeframe, a consulting service for the State Human Services Department completed a “Point in Time”” snapshot of the statistics of homeless persons and families.
“As of Jan. 28 2020, there were 176 households, including 203 persons, experiencing homelessness in the county, a total of 51 persons in 46 households were identified as chronically homeless,” she said. “And 24 unsheltered persons were identified on the night of the count. Hunterdon County took on this responsibility, contracting with Hunterdon Helpline as a shared service with our 26 municipalities because there is a better economy of scale at the county level. Following last month’s Freeholder Board action for Code Blue Warming Centers, I was asked by some people about the homelessness situation throughout the county. While we have a small number in comparison to other New Jersey counties, there is still a requirement for our municipalities to provide shelter to these homeless when there’s low winter temperatures.”
Soloway said the county is stepping in to help because it defrays the cost for the 26 municipalities to pay for shelter. She said the partnership with Hunterdon Helpline not only aligns in the organizational mission of “protecting those who are most vulnerable as part of the county and municipal shared service, but Hunterdon Helpline will also make available its wraparound social services to aid the chronic homeless in an effort to move those persons to a better life position.”
Soloway noted that while Code Blue provided the municipalities with yet another unfunded State of New Jersey mandate to comply with, “offering no related financial support, Hunterdon County is doing its job, once again, because it is the right thing to do.”
TAPINTO - County Contracts with Hunterdon Helpline to Provide Shelter for the Homeless on Freezing Nights
FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders discussed another unfunded state mandate Sept. 1, citing the new need for counties or municipalities to pay for shelters for homeless populations when temperatures outside drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
The board authorized Freeholder Director Shaun C. Van Doren to execute a provider services contract with Hunterdon Helpline for the provision of a Code Blue Warming Center for the period of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. The funding amount for this one-year period is $29,640.Additional funding for an excess of 80 code blue nights is “expressly conditioned upon funding availability and level of service achievement,” the resolution stated.
Hunterdon Helpline is a nonprofit organization with a P.O. box in Flemington, and it has been in existence for 50 years.
Van Doren said while he appreciated the great efforts made by the the county Department of Human Services, led by its administrator Meagan O’Reilly, and those of county purchasing agent Ray Rule, the Code Blue Warming Center has posed “a vexing problem” for Hunterdon County.
With Code Blue set for declaration at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Hunterdon County experienced a Code Blue as late as May 9, 2020.
“The law was changed by the state legislature at the beginning of this year, moving Code Blue declarations from 25 degrees to 32 degrees,” he said. “When a Code Blue is declared based upon weather predictions, the law requires that some type of warming stations be activated for the homeless, no matter how few there are. While the Code Blue law mandates that municipalities should provide warming centers, there are not many homeless in Hunterdon County, and there is not a cost-effective means for our 26 municipalities to meet that requirement. So the county will provide this as a shared service for our municipalities.”
"The Code Blue Law should be considered a state mandate without any state pay, which is a violation of the State of New Jersey’s Constitution,” he added. “The legislature, however, worked itself around that issue by telling counties that they could add a fee surcharge of $3 for each document recorded by our county clerk, and that could be used to pay for the service. Increasing fees is not something that is well-received by the residents of Hunterdon County as well as the board, including myself.”
RARITAN TWP, NJ - Raritan Township, and much of Hunterdon County, are dealing with power outages and more following Tropical Storm Isaias that blew through New Jersey Tuesday. According to a report from Raritan Township Office of Emergency Management, about 24,000 JCP&L customers in Hunterdon County are without power, and they are advising that restoration will likely take days. Residents should begin to make their own arrangements for the coming days.The OEM said Wednesday's forecast calls for mostly sunny conditions, and those who are unable to stay in their homes should stay with friends or family, or in a hotel. A shelter should be an absolute last resort because of COVID-19.In addition, wires are down in municipalities throughout the county, and a flood warning remains in effect.Raritan Township is also urging residents to be aware of trees that are uprooted, but might be hung up in debris. Those removing trees or vegetative debris should check for utility wires that might be entangled.
Those needing assistance should contact the Hunterdon Helpline at 908-782-4357 or 1-800-272-4630.
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