Ten Minutes with Fire Commissioner

May 4, 2023

Elisheva Braun

Though his day job is running a full-service law firm of his own, that didn’t stop Commissioner Larry Loigman from joining the Board of Fire Commissioners in 2012, when it had no frum representation. There, he helps decide on the fire district’s management, administration, budget policy, and personnel matters. He’s also opened the fire department to a warm working relationship with the local community and ushered in an era in which it is filled with frum fire fighters and board members.

Why I joined the commission

About 10 years ago, the Board of Fire Commissioners did not have any Jewish representation. It was probably the last agency in the township without any frum members.

A number of people in the community approached me and asked if I would run.

I think it is important for the community to have a Jewish representative on the board. I was very pleased that I was able to serve in that capacity, to which I’ve been reelected a few times since.

We now have more Jewish members on the board and more Jewish firefighters, and we can be more responsive to the frum population’s needs.

What’s changed

The first year that I was on the board, the fire department didn’t want to participate anymore in sreifas chametz; it was too much of a burden for them. Fortunately, we were able to convince them that they should participate.

Since that time, we have developed a great working relationship with the frum community. Today, both the paid and the volunteer firefighters look forward to sreifas chametz.

During the last decade, the fire department has enhanced its procedures for Lag BaOmer and chametz fires. With the institution of cultural sensitivity training, there’s a lot more understanding of the specific needs of the community. The fire department is very helpful to the community, and I think most locals are appreciative of our efforts.

Mirrored by neighbors

As the Jewish community has expanded into the Lakewood suburbs, so to speak, the other towns have come to our fire department for guidance. We share the procedures that we use to monitor Lag BaOmer and chametz-burning events that keep everybody safe and happy.

Lag BaOmer

The fire marshal—a county office—handles the application process for all fires. They have set up a temporary office in the Lakewood Commissioners’ Building to accept applications and ensure that the proper precautions are being taken by everyone.

On Lag BaOmer itself, the fire department coordinates with the fire marshal to monitor the various fires throughout town. The fire chief, fire department members, and fire marshal members go out and check on the fires to make sure that everything is being done safely. Very large fires have a fire engine on standby to make sure that the situation is secure.

It’s uncommon, but the wind occasionally expands fires to grow beyond the scope of their permits. In these cases, the fire department responds quickly.

By the numbers

Lakewood has 50–60 fires the night of Lag BaOmer and another 50–60 during the day. Typically, only one or two of these become a problem of some sort. When the fire department is called in, most growing fires can be controlled within a matter of minutes.

For the most part, people have been doing this for years, just as the fire department has been doing it for years. They know to keep the fire confined and to keep people away so that there’s no danger of flying embers causing harm to anybody. We usually have excellent cooperation from everybody.

Know this

Every fire requires a permit.

The fire marshal’s office has set up a very simple and convenient procedure to obtain one. This year, they have even agreed to accept credit cards for their fee.

In the rare case that someone has ignited a fire without a permit, we are obligated to extinguish it.

Matching the changes

Over the years, our call volume has noticeably increased. With so many more residents and businesses at this time, the nature of the town—and its fire hazards—have shifted. By modernizing and becoming better equipped to deal with those types of issues, the fire department is changing right alongside the town.

I wish I could fix…

The traffic—it’s an issue that’s compounded in the recent past. Traffic delays the response, posing a serious problem for emergency responders.

Call first

If a smoke alarm goes off and you can’t tell what the cause is, call the fire department. Sometimes, people ask a friend, a neighbor, or some other organization for help instead of calling the fire department. You can make all the other calls afterward. First, call the fire department to make sure we handle the problem.

We’re a 24-hour-a-day operation, and we have people who will go out and take care of the problem. It may be a minor problem like the malfunction of a detector, or it could be something more serious such as carbon monoxide or a fire that isn’t visible. The fire department is best equipped to judge something like that and to take the appropriate action.

Small fires become large fires when there’s a delay in calling the fire department. We want to keep everyone safe!