Emotions Run High as Firefighter Layoffs Go Forward
Affected employees address the board.
Brian Galazka, visibly shaken by the prospect of losing his job, attended the meeting with his pregnant wife. He told trustees he left a good career with the New York City Police Department to work for Garden City.
As a member of Headquarters Company for the past six years, he recalled his lengthy interview process when village administrator Bob Schoelle asked him whether or not he was committed to the village. Galazka said he completed a degree in fire arson investigation and went back to school to earn another degree in fire occupational safety and health administration.
"At that particular interview I was told 'you didn't complete your degree. If we're going to invest in you I want you to have a college degree not just a bunch of credits.' I walked out of this building. I went back to college," he said. "One semester I took 39 credits to complete another degree ... I came back for an additional interview three months later on the very day I graduated from the police academy, changed in the parking lot out of my New York City Police Department uniform trying to attempt to get a job here."
He was passed over at that time and wound up serving an additional two-and-a-half years with the city police department. Galazka left the force a decorated member of service before becoming a career firefighter for Garden City.
"We haven't done anything to this village to deserve this," he told trustees. "I offer you tonight a commitment ... I stand here on the chopping block. Do as you may. Vote your conscience. I left a very good career to invest my life, my responsibilities to your village and in return I'm standing here this evening hoping I will have a career in the future here with Garden City."
Frank Roca, a 23-member of the department, is the lieutenant being demoted to firefighter. He said he was at a loss for words.
"I take my job very seriously and I take the residents of this village very seriously. We go above and beyond our duties to help the residents of this village, as mayor Brudie can attest on Thanksgiving when we assisted him," he said. "I find it extremely disheartening to hear of the layoffs of myself and the six firefighters. My career I guess has peaked but these young gentlemen here who have families, kids, wives pregnant I am at a loss for words of how they must feel because I know how I feel."
Reading a board resolution at the start of the meeting, deputy mayor John Watras stated that after review of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) report and through consultation with the fire chiefs, the board determined the fire department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters, resulting in "considerable economic savings" to the village.
The professional firefighters have maintained that inaccuracies exist within the ICMA report and staffing changes are being made based on those inaccuracies.
Trustees Dennis Donnelly, Nick Episcopia, Laurence Quinn, Brian Daughney and John DeMaro, along with deputy mayor Watras, voted in favor of the layoffs while mayor Don Brudie and trustee Andrew Cavanaugh opposed the cuts.
Village counsel Gary Fishberg said the move will save the village $950,000 per year, citing the cost per firefighter is roughly $154,000 per year.
Chief Charles Cavarra also ensured residents that despite "all these uncomfortable situations" the chiefs did come up with a response matrix to keep the outlying firehouses manned 24/7 and one fire lieutenant for the duration.
"I am planning on keeping them open," he said.