What If They Rang the Fire Alarm and No One Showed Up to Fight It?

It could happen in New Jersey.

That’s because a bill introduced in the state legislature would require first responders – firefighters and police officers – to live in the towns they serve for at least the first five years of their careers.

It’s not a terrible idea in theory, giving first responders a bigger stake in the communities they serve. More than a few cities and towns have residency requirements for some of their civil servants.

But in practice? There’s a problem with it.

Starting with how much money these towns pay their police officers and firefighters.

fire-truckAccording to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, starting salaries for police offers range from $26,600 to $49,500 a year; the median annual salary for police officers in 2011 was $54,230.

And firefighters? The median salary, as of April of this year, is $43,976.

So here’s the problem: who’s going to police the streets and fight the fires in expensive New Jersey shore towns like Stone Harbor (where the median home value is $1.3 million) and Avalon ($1.1 million) and high-end suburbs like Moorestown ($708,000) and Short Hills ($1.5 million) And looking outside New Jersey, who’s going to do those jobs in places like Malibu ($2.5 million), like Greenwich, Connecticut ($1.6 million), like Jupiter Island, Florida ($2.8 million), and like Gladwyne, Pennsylvania ($1.2 million)?

Where The Curmudgeon lives, in New Jersey, there are laws that require towns to create opportunities for the development of what a court calls “affordable housing.” In The Curmudgeon’s town, Marlton, people and public officials erect every obstacle they can think of to prevent the development of affordable housing. Really rich New Jersey towns take out their checkbooks and pay less-rich towns to assume their affordable housing obligations for them – something apparently permitted by the same courts that established the requirement in the first place.

Does anyone expect someone making $35,000 to buy a $500,000 house?

Is any town going to subsidize their first responders’ mortgages or rents?

Didn’t think so.

Require first responders to live in the towns they serve? A nice idea in theory but one that’s so impractical that you really have to question what the people who proposed it were thinking.

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