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Board Approves Firefighter Layoffs

Trustees vote 6-2 in favor of personnel cuts.

Trustees voted 6-2 in favor of laying off six professional firefighters and one fire lieutenant during an emotional standing room only board meeting Thursday.

The lieutenant, under civil service law, will actually be demoted to firefighter.

Trustees Dennis Donnelly, Nick Episcopia, Laurence Quinn, Brian Daughney and John DeMaro, along with deputy mayor John Watras, voted in favor of the move. Village counsel Gary Fishberg said the cuts will save the village $950,000 per year, citing the cost per firefighter is roughly $154,000 per year.

Mayor Don Brudie and trustee Andrew Cavanaugh opposed the layoffs.

"I am opposed to reducing the staff of a department charged with life saving and property protection responsibilities," he said. "The budget process has just begun and the board is taking these steps without first exploring reductions in other non-life threatening areas where expenditure reductions would not have a draconian impact on our residents, their property and their safety."

"Similar efficiencies can be achieved without these layoffs," added Cavanaugh, who serves as finance chairman.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday's meeting, including two of the six firefighters laid off and 23-year member Frank Roca, the demoted lieutenant, were outraged by the vote, calling the six trustees cowards.

"You can't even look them in the eyes," a Tullamore Road resident shouted as he made his way out of the boardroom.

Firefighter Peter Thorp, who's been with the department for seven years, said at 31 years old he can't imagine doing anything else. "I, as a career firefighter, will tell you we can't do our job without the volunteers," he said. "It's a two-way street. One doesn't supplement the other. You've got a great system. It's very short-sighted to give it up for a minimal amount of money."

Fellow firefighter and village resident TJ Michon said the total cost of six firefighters is $105 per household per year or roughly $17.50 per year for each.

"It seems safety really isn't the issue here. It's about money," he said, reminding trustees of the money spent on polls and surveys for St. Paul's and senior needs. "Yet here we are talking about cutting firefighters for a savings of $105 a year," he said.

Fishberg and several of the trustees who voted for the layoffs told Patch after the meeting they didn't know where the firefighters were getting the $105 and $17.50 figures from.

According to village auditor Jim Olivo, there are many variations on calculating the cost to the "average" home - not the least of which is the average value itself. "If one uses the 2013-2014 'all benefits in' cost without overtime, as projected,
(908,159) and subtract that from the tax levy of 2012-2013 you develop a
tax rate drop of $.86," he told Patch Friday. "This represents slightly over 2 percent on the tax rate, and equals $116.10 to a 13,500 assessed home."

A resident of Garfield Street told trustees to knock down St. Paul's to save a buck. "Tear down that monstrosity. It's an eyesore," he said.

After review of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) report and through consultation with the fire chiefs, the board determined the department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters, resulting in "considerable economic savings" to the village.

When asked, Chief Charles Cavarra stated a risk analysis was performed, as recommended in the ICMA report, and is available to the public.

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.

Tim Gaynor blasted the board for lack of transparency, stating he had only heard about the possible layoffs through an email he received from a career firefighter the night before. "One hundred dollars to save jobs? Charge me $300. Charge me $500," he said. "It's an outrage. People who left police jobs in the village of Hempstead, NYPD jobs. Where are they going to go now? They're going to go out in this job market and find a job? Are you serious?"

Leo Stimmler, on the other hand, thanked the board for taking the action. "Without this action residents like myself would not be able to continue living in this village," he said. "Last night at the budget meeting I thought I heard pension costs were going up 13 percent in on year … Senior citizens as you may know we haven't had a cost of living adjustment in our Social Security until just before the election when President Obama raised the cost of living adjustment for Social Security. We were living on fixed incomes. Some of us have been retired for five or more years flat so we don't get raises. I think this took a lot of courage. I'd like to thank the chief. I'd like to thank the board of trustees."

Grove Street resident Bob Orosz wanted the board to table the decision. "It was a very disappointing evening," he said. "Appearance means a lot and I think the whole fire department became demoralized and that's going to be a problem going forward … I agree with trustee Cavanaugh things could've been done. It just wasn't handled well."

Brudie, however, is still hopeful. "The collective bargaining issue isn't over so there's a possibility we can come up with some kind of resolution and reverse course here," he said.

What's your reaction to the move? Let us know in the comments section below.

GC Resident February 08, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Does anyone ever question why all the other upscale Nassau and Suffolk GC type communities don't have paid Fire Department's. Answer is they don't need them and maybe we don't as well. Manhasset, Great Neck, Brookville, Old Westbury, Cold Spring Harbor etc. survive with just volunteers and I have never heard anyone lobbying to change. I think it's time we should change to a volunteer only department.
Jack O'Niel February 08, 2013 at 04:24 PM
I don't mind the pros and think they provide a good service. I do mind their outdated contracts and benefits along with hardball pro-union tactics at the negotiating table that always results in arbitration that gives them what the wanted anyway.
TheHockeydude39 February 08, 2013 at 04:37 PM
GC Resident Really? Decerase response times? Thats all that will happen. If there are career Fire Fighters, if there was some kind of Fire, that Truck would get there first and start putting water on the fire so it woud be put out faser. WE NEED CAREER FIREFIGHTERS. (also i have no affiliation with the fd, if u were wondering)
Steve F February 08, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Thehockeydude I dont think you are familiar with how the GCFD operates in terms of response with career versus volunteer.
John Beck Jr. February 08, 2013 at 10:07 PM
I think the residents of garden city have no idea what the board just did. I don't live in garden city but I am a member of a volunteer fire department aswell as being a career firefighter. You can not say that any volunteer fire dept. is going to be faster getting to your house. I am lost for words. You the residents should be outraged for decreasing your protection. The minimum cost to each house hold to have a firefighter in the firehouse 24 7 365 is priceless. I think you need to look at what sandy did to long beach and what would happen if there where no career firefighters. when all those homeowners who where volunteers had to move out and the career members took care of business .
John Beck Jr. February 08, 2013 at 10:09 PM
And Steve F I am aware how GCFD operates
Steve F February 08, 2013 at 11:06 PM
John Beck, then you know that the GC paid department response time isnt even as good as many volunteer departments. Basically paid chauffers. As for Sandy.....look at the pull from Freeport, Lido, Massapequa etc. Stop trying to be a fear monger. GC will not burn down to the ground.
TheHockeydude39 February 08, 2013 at 11:16 PM
To everyone who thinks that the response times arent being affected, they are. The career FF at the #3 station (i think, stewart and edg.) When i hear a call on the scanner, not 1 min later do they start screaming down the street. The vollie trucks come 2-3 min later.
Steve F February 08, 2013 at 11:20 PM
The hockeydude keep listening to your scanner. There will still be paid firemen manning those stations so I dont see your point. Keep up the good work.
thomas stoerger February 09, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Steve F. For everyone's information the career staff is not just paid chauffers, The outlying stations which by the way may be shut down at night also due to a recommendation from ICMA also. There are 2 Fireighters in those Stations currently. And they certainly do not :pull hose lines and wait for the volunteers to arrive" . Ask any resident who has had a fire in their home how quickly(no disrespect to volunteers) the GCFD responds and starts the first line. Of course it can't be done with 2 members but the fire is reduced in size because of quick application of water.
Cargo Pants February 10, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Before you condemn the career members remember their salary and benefits were received through negotiations and the collective bargaining process. Members of the Village Board were the ones who voted to approve those agreements, apparently the current Board doesn't like what previous Boards have done. Now the present Board singles out the FD but has plans to spend tax dollars for a roller hockey rink and a new Senior center. This is on top of a new paddle tennis court which is a seasonal sport and big bucks spent on pool renovations, another seasonal facility.WTF As far as consolidating all career staff at HQ it has been proposed in the past and rejected. As far as the career staff performing EMS functions, again proposed and rejected by the Village. The GCFD has an operating budget of approximately 6.5 million dollars. How many volunteer Fire Districts have budgets that exceed that number by millions. Who do you think is getting better bang for their buck? Six FF layoffs and one LT demotion on top of 4 FF positions and Commanding Officer position lost through attrition already. Does this have the appearance of an agenda? Any Chief who has stood in front of a building waiting for an engine or truck to arrive knows the value of having a guaranteed response. To stay silent on the issue or worse, tell elected officials that you can perform the same job without career staff is a blatant lie and a spiteful, self serving statement. Put the safety of the residents first.
Steve F February 10, 2013 at 02:58 AM
Wait a second? Pool renovations, new paddle board court, senior center, and we still have paid firemen working everyday and night? Wow this Board is FANFASTIC! They will now achieve so much more for the taxpayers. Sounds like things are moving in the right direction.
Enough Is Enough February 10, 2013 at 09:59 AM
I guess a lot of the people who are up in arms about this move did not hear the samething I was hearing. 1 - The 2 Fire Houses in the west and east remain manned and open. The Firehouse at Village Hall will remain staffed with 1 Lieutenant and this is where the volunteers respond to. That means you will get THE SAME response time you get today. 2 - In the past (before layoffs) 4 paid Firefighters and 1 Paid Lieutenant would respond to your house. (After layoffs), 4 paid Firefighters and 1 Paid lieutenant will respond to your house. This tells me one thing, the Paid Department was OVERSTAFFED. Who would not want the same number of FireFighters responding and save $950,000?
Enough Is Enough February 10, 2013 at 10:05 AM
Now, as far as the Union Firefighters who have the best interests of the residents in mind. I have heard that volunteers responded to a house fire on Kenwood Road with a Fire Truck, and the Union filed a grievance against the village, because that was a spare truck and it got there before the paid fire truck. I have also heard that this same spare fire truck was out training with volunteers when a kitchen fire was called in. Again, this spare truck got to the fire before the paid fire truck, and the union filed a grievance against the village. Both grievances requested monetary compensation because a union firefighter(s) should of responded with the fire truck. Is this the union looking out for the residents? Or is this the union just wanting more tax payers money.
thomas stoerger February 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM
Mr. Enough is Enough, I do not know where your getting four firefighters and a lieutenant responding after layoffs. Unless you are behind the scenes and know something the fire dept. doesnt know there would be 2 firefighters from the closest(outlying station) and the lieutenant that equals three(3) because the "response matrix " has not been defined yet the latest policy was for the furthest(outlying station) who does not respond to calls on the other end of town they used to relocate to HQ and should another alarm come if for help in the village or most recently further reduced staffing they respond to HQ to pick up the Ladder truck.
Enough Is Enough February 10, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Mr. Stoerger, just going by what I was told and heard. 4 Firefighters would still respond to the scene, along with 1 lieutenant, which is not different than today. Since you are part of the Union, please comment on the Union filing grievances when the volunteers respond with the spare fire truck. I would like to hear your response on that. How is that in the best interest of the residents for the volunteers not to bring a fire truck to a fire?
Cargo Pants February 10, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Does the Village of Garden City have plans to layoff any police, Sanitation or DPW workers? I haven't heard. If the Village has to save money it should treat each department equally. The fire department should not bare the brunt of this problem.
Steve F February 10, 2013 at 05:18 PM
That would be fantastic if they take a good look at the efficiencies of all the departments. It's a great time to make fiscal responsibility the major focus of the village.
Enough Is Enough February 10, 2013 at 06:41 PM
Agree 100%. The entire village is over staffed, not just the Fire Department. I would not eliminate any Police Officer positions however, the Police is what keeps the village of Garden City, Garden City. I would however look at trying to get Police Officers to retire, than hire new ones at Tier 6.
John Leto February 11, 2013 at 04:49 AM
I do not claim to be an expert on balancing municipality budgets, nor am I an expert on fire operations. Unfortunately , however, I am an expert of sorts at being the victim of house fires. On Father's Day, 1984, I was at my parents home in Merrick during summer break from college when a fire broke out at 4 AM. It took the Merrick volunteer fire department 11 minutes to respond. After the fire was extinguished, the home and all of its contents were gone, and much more tragically a life was lost. A helpless and hopeless 11 minutes waiting with my mother and father, a decorated FDNY Lieutenant, that I would not wish upon anyone. 11 minutes. On January 23rd of this year tragedy struck again when a fire broke out in the basement of my home on Nassau Blvd. Upon seeing the smoke my wife immediately called the Garden City Fire Department. With memories of 1984 I attempted to extinguish the basement fire but was quickly overcome with smoke inhalation. Moving quickly to the main floor of the house, where the fire had already progressed, I was immediately greeted by professional Firefighter Mike Morgan. Firefighter Morgan evacuated my wife and 2 children and began the process to extinguish the fire. My wife's call was received at 9:35 PM, the GC Fire Department arrived at 9:38 PM. In 3 minutes time the fire had already made its way to the 2nd floor where it was finally extinguished by a team led by Lieutenant Lou Mira, a professional firefighter. 3 minutes. I know better than most what a fire can do in "minutes". The experts will tell you that when it comes to response time and a house fire, "4" is the magic number. 4 minutes. Fortunately for my family, unlike my experience in 1984, due to the quick response time the fire was contained to a den wall and a master bedroom wall on the second floor. Most importantly no one was seriously injured. Lt Mira and his team of professional and volunteer firefighters worked hurriedly, smartly and meticulously, securing my family while limiting property damage. Lt Mira knew that with balloon structure framing, like many of our old homes in Garden City, the fire moves quickly vertically to the attic then spreads out rapidly horizontally. For obvious reasons, I am opposed to the cuts to the number of professional GC firefighters along with the possibility of station closures. The Board of Trustees approved the cuts by a 6 to 2 vote. The cost savings for these cuts will be approximately $100 per GC family per year. I shared my views in front of the BOT in a crowded village hall before their vote on February 7th. My main concern was around response time and the critical 4 minutes. The cuts will effect our professional firefighters and specifically the night crew. It was extremely disturbing that not one of the 6 BOT members who voted in favor of the cuts could explain to our residents how response time at night would be impacted. Not one. Was public safety considered in their analysis? Was it all about the $100 per family? Or, is there something else more political in nature at work? GC residents deserve to know. We are entitled to a more public discussion, along with a more detailed explanation...response time saves lives and property, take it from someone who knows all too well. All too well.
Frank Leto February 11, 2013 at 11:47 AM
On Feb 7, 2013 the Garden City Board of Trustees (BOT) made a decision that will greatly effect the safety of all Garden City residents. They voted to reduce staffing at our fire stations, and by doing so increased response times to a fire or an incident at our homes. The BOT meeting was a complete sham as they made a decision with little or no public notice. Trustees based their decision on an ICMA report, which at the last minute they decided not to use; because Chief Cavarra had a “feeling” he had a better plan. Resident after resident (who fortunately learned about the vote) pleaded with the BOT to, at a minimum, table the motion so we could have a more open and honest public discussion, but they hastily proceeded with the vote. They voted 6 to 2 in favor of the reduced staffing and layoffs. I do not pretend to know what motivates elected officials, paid or unpaid, but I do know firefighters. I come from a family of firefighters and I have been a New York City Firefighter myself for 30 years. I have worked alongside these brave men and women my entire adult life. I have been with them through thick and thin. I have been with firefighters as they sacrificed their own lives for each other and the public they dutifully serve. I have been with their families when those families have received the devastating news that their loved ones were not coming home, because they died serving the community. I know these men and women, professional and volunteer. I can spot one a mile away. The volunteer firefighters that serve our town are my friends, they are my neighbors, and provide a great public service. Some of those same volunteer firefighters sat idly by as their “brother” firefighters who were on the chopping block spoke of their dedication to their trade and to the Village of Garden City. Dozens of them sat there and said nothing as the BOT voted against public safety. Like I said, I know firefighters. They live and die for public safety and each other. I don’t know what the volunteer firefighters in this town that agreed with, and may I dare say, influenced the vote are, but I can tell you what they are NOT, they are NOT real firefighters. They may drive a fire truck, wear turnout gear and they may even be able to put out a fire, but they are no brother of mine. To those of you, who would consider settling internal fire department conflicts at the risk of public safety, please don’t insult any of us that are firefighters by insisting that you are one too. Captain Frank Leto FDNY GC resident for 24 years
Jack O'Niel February 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM
This isn't about brotherhood. This is about fiscal responsibility and it's really quite amazing how EVERYTHING is essential when it comes down to trimming budgets. The village does not have unlimited funds and hard choices are going to have to be made and they need to start somewhere.
Steve F February 11, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Lol ok so we won't call them firemen anymore. Call then clowns if you want. In your opinion the REAL firemen, the brotherhood, are the ones who files grievances against the vollies using a spare rig to respond to calls and beating the REAL firemen to the scene. Yes, THOSE guys are the brotherhood who are putting the safety of the residents first.
Steve F February 14, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Good thing you dont live here Stephen. Worry about your own neighborhood, which I am sure is protected by a volunteer fire service, while we still have a paid and volunteer service.
GCFR February 18, 2013 at 10:33 AM
I applaud JTZ and John Leto for their comments. I am not sure how many of you have actually had to dial 911 and had either the GCFD or GCPD respond to your homes, but s a resident who has, I have no issue with the minimal amount of the high taxes I pay that go toward these departments. I think JTZ makes valid points on where our money goes and the people making those decisons. Considering the fact that millions were spent to renovate our Village pool and the water slides were closed half the time because kids were getting scraped by the poor paint job, or that the base of the waterpark was peeling by mid summer speaks to the fact that the board clearly makes decisions but after those decisions are made, what are the repercussions. A pool or slide can be fixed, it is a minor inconvenience, but what happens when response time increases? The results are yet to be seen. As for Mr. Penney's comments on the GCPD being next, let's think before dropping the gauntlet again. During Super Storm Sandy we were left in the dark, but our situation was far superior to those in surrounding areas, when 2 men broke into a Maxwell Road home last year minutes prior to school dismissal and were being searched for, the GCPD swarmed the area and one officer stopped me seeing I had my children in tow, made sure I was aware and made sure I arrived safely home. There is a Safety and Wellness Program in place for seniors and those with severe medical conditions who are alone, and should those individuals not phone in daily the GCPD will check in on the individual. I only wish this were available to those in Nassau and Suffolk County, I am sure many of us with elderly parents would find comfort in this. These are just a few examples of why we should value what we have, what we pay for. If there were a home invasion in Garden City at your home and your loved ones were in danger do you think the difference in 3 minutes would matter? I hope you never have to find out.
GC Resident February 18, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Not sure how long you live in town but for the record the pool is an enterprise fund paid for by those who choose to join and does NOT have any tax revenue whatsoever. So please get your facts before you act. It's amazing how all the other towns/villages on LI exist w/o a paid FD.
GCFR February 18, 2013 at 11:15 AM
My facts are straight, either way, it is my money being spent, whether taxes or pool membership. Perhaps since you are so passionate about other towns and villages on Long Island, you should consider relocating.
GC Resident February 18, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Don't think so but as a long time resident I'm not paranoid about a few minutes of response time and I'm more concerned with higher and higher taxes with little return by paid drivers a.k.a. paid firemen who just drive and don't actually fight fires.
TheHockeydude39 February 18, 2013 at 11:49 AM
YOU DON'T GET IT GC RES.!!! Dear god, the trucks that have paid FF in them have A WHOLE CREW ON BOARD!! We don't live in Nebraska where 1-2 paid drive the trucks and 10-20 drive there own cars. Those "few minuets of response time" make all the difference. Compared from when an another department gets toned out and when the GCFD gets toned out, the fire is put out much, much quicker in GC. And if you don't care about a few min of response, why don't you call the FDNY when you need the fire department. Really, before you say anything about paid FF, get some knowledge or actually have had to call them.
Steve F February 18, 2013 at 01:15 PM
GCFD does not roll engines to a call with full working paid crews. The response system in the past was assanine. Now improvements are being made and we will continue to have paid response. You naysayers all preach so highly about response times to house fires. I find it odd that no one brings up the lack of dedicated EMS from this great FD. There are far more medical emergencies per year than house fires. Also some of the neighboring volly houses beat our paid response time. Throwing money at a problem doesn't always make it better.

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