15 Sep 2014
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Residents React to Fire Department Staffing Changes

Many concerned about the elimination of staffing during evening hours at satellite fire stations.

Residents React to Fire Department Staffing Changes
One of its last actions of 2012, the village board of trustees voted 7-1 (Mayor Don Brudie the lone nay vote) in favor of eliminating staffing at both satellite fire stations in Garden City during evening hours.

The move was a recommendation (#6) included in a $36,000, 85-page International City/County Management Association (ICMA) report analyzing the fire department's overall performance.

Specifically, the recommendation suggests:
  • deploying four firefighters and a lieutenant at Headquarters and not staffing Stations No. 2 and 3 on Edgemere and Clinton roads respectively; and
  • revising the night tour to 12 hours - instead of 14,  and the day tour to 12 hours - instead of 10
"Effective as soon as operationally possible" the following will go into effect:

1.    The Headquarters Company schedules shall be two 12-hour tours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.;

2.    The daytime staffing shall be 5 firefighters and 1 lieutenant;

3.    The nighttime staffing shall be 4 firefighters and 1 lieutenant - all deployed at Headquarters; and

4.    Consistent with fire department standard operation procedures and orders as promulgated from time to time, during evening hours (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) the two engines at Headquarters shall be available to Headquarters Company and the engines at the satellite houses will be available to volunteer firefighters as necessary

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For retired New York City firefighter Seamus McNeela of Tullamore Road, the staffing changes are cause for concern. He said that during his 35-year career, most fires and fire-related deaths occurred during night time hours.

"You're saying we're going to close a few companies but we're to maintain the number of people responding. You're putting all your eggs in one basket. What happens if that vehicle is involved in an accident? Are there other fire vehicles coming to that fire?" he asked trustees.

He suggested the board re-visit the issue because a 30-day trial run is not enough in his opinion. "The number of residential, structural fires in Garden City is very low. That being the case we have people taking care of their homes. But the very simple fact is if we do have one the consequences of what could happen are going to be disastrous," he said.

Robert Fenti of Jefferson Street agreed.

"I grew up here. I moved out of town. I'm a resident now for 12 years. The reason I moved back is the services that we have. The parks, the police department, paid fire department," he said. "I'm a 24-year member of the New York City Fire Department. I was a volunteer firefighter in Garden City for 12 years. Just like the chief I've seen plenty of fires ... The bottom line is Station 2 is an engine company. Station 3 is an engine company. The quicker we get water on the fire the better ... Fire doubles in size, as we've said here, every minute. Having a paid fire department responding to those fires at night could make all the difference."

Francine Ryan of Locust Street thanked Mayor Brudie for voting against the move.

"i live in the East. The East is the most populated area of town. The houses are smallish. They are close together. If there's a fire it's going to be very disastrous," she said. "It is a fact for every minute of delay the fire doubles in size. If you have a fire in the East all the way by Grove Street and someone's coming from the center of town and more than half of the fires happen at night how would you like to have your house and the houses around you go up because there's an extra minute or two or whatever it's going to be added on to the time?"

Ryan added, "I think it's very short sighted to make a decision about the most populated area of town. And if it's a financial thing it cost each resident of the village about $15 a year to have a paid firefighter on staff. i think that's penny wise and pound foolish ... I think it's very short sighted and irresponsible."

Another resident who lives on Yale Street questioned how the staffing eliminations would affect response times. "You've slowed down the response times already so what affect is this going to have on the response times?" he asked.

"We didn't slow down the response times," Chief Charles Cavarra replied.

"I beg to differ sir," the resident said.

"You can differ all you want you'd still be wrong," Chief Cavarra shot back.

Robert Terry, a retired career firefighter in Garden City who is also a volunteer in Freeport for nearly five decades, said responding to the West End on a "good day" could take five minutes.

"Those stations are manned 24 hours a day," he said. "If you lose that you lose that two-minute response. If you close those stations at night you're going to have problems down the road and everybody up in front of that room is going to be responsible because you made that decision tonight."

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