FIREMEN FACE SUSPENSIONS OVER SCUFFLE

By JOHN T. WARD

sb-firefighter-fightAll three Sea Bright firefighters involved in a firehouse scuffle 13 months ago could be suspended from the squad for two months under action initiated by the borough council Tuesday night.

They could also be barred from serving as officers of the small town’s volunteer company for a year.

The disciplinary process, set in motion without comment by council members after a 90-minute closed-door session, revived a controversy that appeared put to rest a month ago, when a municipal court judge declined to bar two of the firefighters – brothers Steven and Peter Lang IV – from serving as officers, and instead sentenced all three to 100 hours of community service. He also fined them $500 each.

“I see this as a tremendous waste of resources and time that will only result in more divisiveness in the town, the fire company and the first aid squad,” the Lang’s attorney, William Wilson, said of the council’s action.

Thirty-three-year-old Peter Lang, a former chief, and his 25-year brother were convicted in July of assaulting fellow firefighter Justin Hughes, 28, after an exchange of words in the firehouse bar during a wetdown celebration over a new firetruck on October 9, 2010. Hughes was convicted of harassment.

The set-to was caught on videotape, without audio.

The potential disciplinary actions, if adopted by the council, would add an ironic twist to an already knotty case, given that Judge James Berube in Little Silver told the trio their community service could be in the form volunteer fire or first aid work, duties all three have performed for years.

Indeed, the fire company itself, claiming that the Langs “must be sworn into their offices” to serve, voted on October 19 to do, according to a letter Wilson submitted to the council. The letter was signed by their father, Peter Lang III, the company’s president. It was unclear, however, if the brothers had in fact been sworn.

The suspensions would keep out of service three firefighters who double as EMTs and routinely respond to hundred of fire and medical emergencies a year, a point made about the Langs, but not Hughes, by fire Chief Chad Hughes and others before the trio’s sentencings.

Murphy said in a letter to the court that suspensions would have “an adverse effect” on the town of 1,800 residents.

Hughes has filed an appeal of his conviction with the state Superior Court. He’s being represented by another Sea Bright firefighter, Scott Servilla, a patent attorney.

Borough officials said the council had jurisdiction in the matter because the fire department is funded by the town and one of the firefighters is paid a stipend, making it a personnel matter.

Councilman Read Murphy, a former fire chief whose son Chad is the current chief, did not participate in the council’s discussion of the matter. Councilman James LoBiondo abstained from voting.

Borough labor attorney Ramon Rivera said a hearing would be held by the council, with witnesses and the right of cross-examination, if the firefighters contest the recommended suspensions.