MICHAEL HARPER became the twenty-fourth Chief of the Camden Fire Department when he succeeded David Yates on January 1, 2011. Chief Harper was first appointed to the Camden Fire Department in 1987.


Fire Headquarters - December 23, 2010
From Left: Ed Glassman - Dave Yates - Bill Schumacher
Steve DiPompo - Mike Harper - Greg Murphy
Click on Images to Enlarge

Philadelphia Inquirer - January 1, 2011

Interim Camden fire chief to retire to save someone else's job

By Darran Simon
Inquirer Staff Writer

Camden's interim fire chief, David A. Yates, would have liked to stay on the job a few more years, but he figured he could do more good by retiring.

Yates, who has been acting as chief since June, officially retires Saturday, ending a roughly 25-year career with the department. He hopes the elimination of his salary from the payroll will benefit one of 67 firefighters who face layoffs.

"My hope in leaving is that I will preserve a job for someone who has a mortgage and a family," Yates, 51, said Thursday. "If I can do that, then I can walk out of here with my head held high."

Yates said he is worried that cutting firefighters will compromise public safety.

"I oppose the cuts," he said. "The companies we have, we need. If we didn't need them, we wouldn't have them."

By January 18, Camden could lay off up to a third of its fire department and half of its police force. The city recently received $4 million of an overdue payment from the South Jersey Port Corp., a quasi-state agency, that could reduce the previously announced number of layoffs.

According to a formula city officials have used in union negotiations, $4 million would save 58 of the 247 police and fire positions slated to be cut. City spokesman Robert Corrales said the city has not yet determined how many jobs might be preserved.

Mayor Dana L. Redd has appointed Michael L. Harper, 48, of Lawnside - deputy fire chief of administration and a nearly 24-year department veteran - as acting fire chief, Corrales said.

Harper's promotion is pending approval by the state Department of Community Affairs. His previous jobs in Camden include battalion fire chief and deputy chief tour commander, according to the city.

Yates, who will collect a pension, said his own job had not been in jeopardy. He said several factors, which he declined to discuss, contributed to his decision to retire. But the primary motivation, he said, was to save someone else's job. He encouraged other veterans to follow his example.

He made the decision about two months ago, when layoffs seemed inevitable, he said. His letter informing the city of his retirement was dated December 1.

"The reality is that this isn't a scare tactic," he said.

Yates has been outspoken about the effect layoffs could have on emergency-response times in the city.

"Less manpower and fewer companies means longer response times," he said. "The ability to complete the tasks at hand becomes more difficult."

Camden has one of the few fire departments in the state with paid personnel, and is surrounded by towns staffed with volunteers. The city has been leaning more on those volunteers for mutual aid since temporarily closing companies to reduce overtime, he said.

Yates joined the department in 1985 after working five years as a machinist at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. His late grandfather worked for the Camden Fire Department for 35 years, he said.

"I grew up around it with my grandfather," he said. "It was pretty much in my blood."

Yates' starting salary was around $13,500. As chief, he made $150,704, according to the city.

During his time as chief, the department has secured about $1.4 million in federal grants for a ladder truck, along with fire safety gear, a station generator, and training, Yates said. A $350,000 state grant is pending to buy a pumper.

Harper recently submitted another federal grant proposal for $5 million over two years to retain firefighters facing layoffs.

The department also has initiated a verification policy to curtail unauthorized use of sick time, he said.

Yates lives in Long Beach Township in Ocean County. He and his wife have a 28-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old son, and 12-year-old twin boys.

Yates is not sure what's next for him professionally. Firefighting, he said, "was a lifetime dream.

Camden Courier-Post - January 3, 2011

Interim Camden fire chief retires

City officials on Saturday confirmed that David Yates, who has been serving as interim chief of Camden City's fire department, has retired.

The 51-year-old Yates has been the acting chief of the department since June and has served in the department for 25 years. He could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Cutting his $150,000 salary from the city's budget will only account for a small fraction of Camden's $26.5 million budget deficit.

Nearly 70 firefighters -- roughly one third of the department -- are among 383 city workers who are expected to be laid off January 18.

It is unclear how many jobs could be saved from the salary freed up by Yates' departure.

Camden spokesman Robert Corrales said the city is thankful for Yates' service.

He added that Michael Harper, who is presently the deputy fire chief of administration, has been named the city's acting fire chief.

However, final approval of the appointment, which was made by Mayor Dana Redd, will have to come from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

A provision in an agreement between Camden and the state requires the approval from Trenton for any new hires or promotions in city agencies, Corrales noted.

Meanwhile, the fate of city employees remains in the balance. The city applied for nearly $76 million in state aid. The Department of Community Affairs instead sent $69 million to the financially strapped city.

The additional funds went largely to unanticipated pension costs and coverage for uncollected taxes. Only a small amount was left to minimize layoffs.

That funding, though, also came with conditions from Trenton. Gov. Chris Christie outlined guidelines that must be adhered to in order for communities to receive the full funding.

Municipalities will receive 75 percent of the aid when they agree to accept certain state oversight, reform and reporting requirements. They will get the remaining 25 percent when the state determines they've met the requirements.

City officials have been meeting with county, state and other local officials to discuss possible coverage in the event that police and firefighters are let go.

The state firefighters' association has also condemned plans by city officials to cut the firefighter positions in a recent full-page advertisement in the Courier-Post.

"Can Camden Get Any More Dangerous?" read the headline of the ad, which was paid for by the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey. It went on to say that Redd's cuts "will make matters worse."

The PFANJ ad listed several negative effects if the cuts occur: "it will take longer for engines to reach fires; there won't be enough personnel to effectively respond; Camden will be an even more dangerous place to live, work and visit.".

Camden Courier-Post * January 13, 2011

Uncertainty confronts new Camden fire chief

Courier-Post Staff

A massive reduction in staff in a city on the brink isn't the ideal condition for a newly appointed department head.

But that's what acting Camden City Fire Department Chief Michael Harper faces as hundreds of city workers -- including firefighters -- are threatened with layoffs January 18.

Harper has replaced interim chief David Yates, who retired Jan. 1.

"I'm trying to balance everything right now," Harper said recently "I'm in the process of looking at the cutback numbers given to me by the city and trying to figure out what kind of services we can provide after the cutbacks take effect."

The 48-year-old Harper came up through the ranks since joining the department in 1987, working in some of the busiest units in Camden.

"There have been some drastic changes around here," said Harper, who most recently held the deputy chief for administration title.

"When I came in, everything was fully staffed, but it has been shrinking year by year. We lost a couple of companies, but this by far is the worst it has ever been."

The loss of units means Camden has relied more on mutual aid service from volunteer departments outside the city. The only other all-career staffed department nearby is Gloucester City, which laid off firefighters of its own last year.

On Monday, city spokesman Robert Corrales said negotiations between the city and unions representing its workers remained unchanged.

Last week, Trenton requested and was granted an extension to its layoff proposal from the state Civil Service Commission. In the state capital, 61 fire department employees are slated to be laid off February 7.

The extension is meant to keep as many firefighters for as long as possible, officials said, as the city waits on the status of a federal grant meant to offset some firefighter salaries.

Three fire stations in Trenton are in danger of closing as a result of the layoffs. Only one municipality in New Jersey was awarded a SAFER grant through FEMA in 2010.

Camden applied for the federal dollars before the recent grant application deadline. Harper said because of requirements on municipalities to provide matching funds for money given out under SAFER, more applications had been filed.

Often those funds aren't awarded for a year or more, meaning the 67 firefighters set to be released would likely benefit from them.

City officials aren't sure how Yates' salary could go toward saving firefighter positions. He was tabbed by Mayor Dana Redd to head the department last May after Chief Thomas Quinn resigned suddenly after six months on the job.

Al Ashley, who heads one of the unions representing firefighters, said Harper is suited well for the job considering his reputation through the years as a hard-working firefighter, captain and battalion chief.

"We need some stability in the position," Ashley said, referring to frequent change at the top. "I think he's dedicated to getting the job done.

"Hopefully going forward he'll be a good chief for the department even though the task ahead of him is gigantic."

Chiefs and union presidents have their share of differences on a variety of issues. Harper's nature, Ashley hopes, will allow them to maintain a friendship.

"He's a fair guy and has always been fair," Ashley said. "We'll work well together."

The toughest thing for the new chief about Camden's current situation isn't developing contingency plans or securing new equipment. It's worrying about the safety and fate of firefighters he has served alongside for years.

In a department Camden's size, Harper said, it's easy to learn not only the names of firefighters but those of their families.

"I know more about people than I would know working at a bigger department in another city," he said.

"Personally seeing them go through this is very discouraging. These guys come in every day, sworn to protect and serve while putting their lives on the line.".