Lakewood Briefs – March 24, 2021

LAKEWOOD -

Lakewood-Brick Fire was Intentionally Set

Authorities have determined that the wild fire that destroyed over 167 acres in Lakewood and Brick was intentionally set.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer confirmed that the origin of the fire had been located, but offered few details about the circumstances of the incident.

The fire was first noticed last Sunday afternoon near the intersection of Cedarbridge Avenue and Airport Road. Amid dry conditions and 20 mile-per-hour gusts, the blaze spread quickly crossing the border into Brick Township. Fifty different New Jersey fire departments responded to help extinguish the fire. Besides one firefighter who suffered a heart attack on the scene, there were no other injuries. The firefighter was brought to Hackensack Meridian Ocean Medical Center in Brick and is in stable condition.

Hundreds of homes, mostly in Brick, were evacuated, and the fire left significant property damage in its wake. 29 homes in Brick Lake Park were left uninhabitable. Several commercial buildings were damaged as well. Some 167 acres of forest was damaged or destroyed.

“The significance of this wildland fire cannot be overstated. We have a firefighter that suffered cardiac arrest while battling this fire. Three homeless people living in the woods were saved from the advancing fire. Numerous residences and commercial properties were damaged and hundreds of people were evacuated. It is only by the grace of G-d that no one was killed,” said Prosecutor Billhimer.

Rep. Smith wins High Ratings for Legislative Effectiveness

An annual study by an independent nonpartisan organization which tracks congressional members performance named Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) his party’s second most effective member in the House of Representatives and its most effective on health care issues.

The Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL) is a joint partnership between the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Vanderbilt University measures members by 15 metrics including how many bills they sponsor, the substance of proposed bills, and how far they move through the legislative process. The study noted that Rep. Smith “can be effective at lawmaking, even in a Democratic-controlled House.”

Rep. Smith, who has served in Congress since 1981, focuses heavily on foreign policy issues especially those involving religious freedom and conditions for woman and children. He is a social conservative, and has been recognized in the past for his effectiveness in working on bipartisan initiatives.

“Effective lawmaking requires working across the aisle in good faith—and respecting others even when there are fundamental disagreements—in order to achieve fair and sustainable solutions to problems,” said Rep. Smith. “I have always searched for areas of agreement to enact laws that make a positive difference, and I will continue to work tirelessly to help the people of New Jersey and those across the country on a wide-range of important issues.”

COVID Cases Continue to Trend Down

The number of COVID cases in Lakewood continued to trend downwards for the fifth week in a row last week, ending with a total of 205 confirmed infections according to the Ocean County Health Department.

Case numbers had gradually risen over most of the fall and winter, reaching relatively high levels at points. This is the longest period of downward movement in case numbers in over six months. The trend comes amid dipping numbers statewide, which has allowed for the relaxation of some regulations intended to slow the virus’ spread.

Assemblyman Dancer Introduces Bill on School Bus Safety

Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Ocean) introduced legislation aimed at improving oversight of the school transportation system.

The bill was prompted by a report by USA Today on dangerous bus operators who are allowed to remain on the job.

The bill would establish the position of a school bus safety coordinator in the Department of Education.

“The safety of our school children is my number one concern. Unscrupulous busing companies have fabricated safety inspections, hired drivers with criminal histories, and resorted to deceptive practices that put lucrative contracts ahead of student safety,” said Assemblyman Dancer. “The school transportation system needs to be reformed to correct deficiencies and stop dangerous operators from busing our children.”

A statement by the Assemblyman’s office said that currently, school bus safety is the responsibility of several organizations which lack a central point of coordination. The present bill would designate one official to be charged with overseeing safety concerns exclusively and work with all relevant departments and stakeholders.

The bill would allow the public to access a database that includes bus driver violations and penalties. Additionally, school transportation contracts would no longer simply go to the lowest bidder. The school bus safety coordinator would have the power to block boards of education from awarding contracts to a company that is found to have poor performance records or committed multiple violations.

“This bill will strengthen accountability, make the system work for the safety of our students, and prevent corrupt companies from continuing to take our tax dollars,” said Assemblyman Dancer.