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Fire Department Debate Dominates Candidates Q&A

Trustee Dennis Donnelly says unmanning firehouses controversy is "overblown."

EPOA president Judy Courtney (far right) moderates a debate between Dennis Donnelly and Francine Ryan. (Credit: Carisa Giardino)
EPOA president Judy Courtney (far right) moderates a debate between Dennis Donnelly and Francine Ryan. (Credit: Carisa Giardino)
Approximately 50 residents witnessed a healthy debate amongst village trustee candidates Tuesday during the first ever town hall Q&A at the Eastern Property Owners' Association (EPOA) resident electors' meeting at Stewart School.

EPOA president Judy Courtney moderated the discussion between sitting trustee Dennis Donnelly, who was selected by the East Nominating Committee to serve a new, two-year term, and his challenger, Francine Ryan, a 27-year resident who says the village needs "fresh thinking and new revenue solutions that do not rely on raising taxes."

Candidates touched on several issues facing the village, including what to do with St. Paul's, revenue generation, keeping the business district vibrant, village communication with residents, particularly during Superstorm Sandy, downtown development and Garden City Fire Department changes, the last of which took center stage.

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Ryan said the unmanning of both satellite firehouses on Clinton Road and Edgemere Road during evening hours is the most important issue currently facing the village.

She does not favor the move and is flabbergasted that the implementation of two International City/County Management Association (ICMA) recommendations were put into effect without first performing a risk assessment, as recommended on page 15 of the report.

"It's almost unconscionable," Ryan said, adding that people move to Garden City for its exemplary services. "Why are we focused on cutting the fire department? The recreation budget is actually higher than the fire department budget. Why would we have a recreation budget that nobody disagrees is very important but not be willing to spend the money to make sure the safety of our homes and our lives are protected?"

Dennis Donnelly, who voted in favor of implementing both ICMA report recommendations, disagreed, stating the current controversy surrounding the fire department is "really a union issue."

He noted that in Garden City 25 percent of alarms occur during evening hours. "If 420 alarms come in at night, that's 1.1 per night with three firehouses," he said. "Of all those alarms there were five working fires in 2012, four of which occurred during the day." He also said that turning all dispatch duties over to
Firecom resulted in a three to three-and-a-half minute reduction per dispatch.

"What used to happen is a call would go to our fire department where one of our paid firefighters would answer the call. He would then map out where the hydrants are. He would then tell the paid staff to get dressed and on their way to the fire the firefighters who didn't respond to the fire would page the volunteers to let them know there was a fire ... Since we have gone to Firecom everyone gets notified of a fire at the same time and miraculously since that has happened we've cut between three and three-and-a-half minutes off time of arrival," Donnelly explained.

When asked whether or not volunteers could staff the firehouses at night, Donnelly replied, "The plan is to have the volunteers respond with trucks from those houses." He added that because the department has saved three-and-a-half minutes in dispatch time since switching to Firecom, even in a worse case scenario firefighters are still getting to a fire considerably sooner than they were.

"The volunteers, it seems, get there before the paid guys now," he said, adding that the career (paid) firefighters are here to supplement the volunteers. "All firefighters report to the chief," Donnelly said, referring to the chain of command at a call.

Another resident, who prefaced his remarks by stating he wasn't debating the competencies of either the volunteers or paid staff, questioned how volunteers could staff the houses. "Volunteer firefighters can't be on site overnight," the resident said.

"Why not?" Donnelly replied.

"One hundred firefighters?" the resident asked, referring to the amount of volunteers Donnelly said the department has.

"There's only two firefighters in that firehouse. Could two of them be there?" Donnelly asked, adding Tuesday that the controversy surrounding the unmanning of Stations 2 and 3 is really "overblown."

"I don't know," the resident replied. "Has a staffing plan been looked at?"

Donnelly said nothing has been implemented yet because the board is still waiting for the fire chiefs to devise and submit a staffing plan.

Coverage of how the candidates feel about other issues facing the village will appear in a future article tomorrow morning.

GCBob January 17, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Residents should come to the realization that of all the fire departments on Long Island, we along with Long Beach are the only two with paid personnel except that Long Beach has mostly ambulance workers while ours are only firefighters. Highly trained unpaid volunteers seem to work out just fine in every other community on Long Island. I agree with these cost-cutting measures here in Garden City and that our safety is not in any jeopardy. There were other issues brought up during the meeting and it became quite apparent that Mrs. Ryan was either misinformed or uninformed by her remarks, while Trustee Donnelly was knowledgeable and had concise answers with facts and figures. A question was put to Mrs. Ryan as to why her publicized biography did not include the fact that she is a cofounder of the Eastern Property Owners Associations to Save St. Paul's and she replied that she didn't have the room. She was also asked several times as to whether she would support the proposal set forth by the CSSP regarding the St. Paul's building with a yes or no answer. She was unwilling to give such an answer. Our choice for trustee is between Mr. Donnelly, a person who publicly served this community for many years while being acknowledged by his constituents for his accomplishments and Mrs. Ryan , who has never served or held any public office to my knowledge, an unknown who aspires to one of the highest public offices in this village with no background or credentials in the public arena. It boils down to a two issue candidate, firefighters and St. Paul's with Mrs. Ryan, against a multifaceted, well-known and publicly accomplished candidate in Mr. Donnelly, the choice is clear, re-elect Trustee Donnelly.
Alex T Stewart January 17, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Surprisingly it seems like the Patch missed a key comment made by Mrs. Ryan about the Fire Department in the article above. Mrs. Ryan stated "most fires happen at night" and that is why the stations should not be unmanned by career firefighters. According to the factual statistics provided she is completely wrong as 75% of alarms happen during the day. Also 4 of the last 5 actual fires have happened during the day which is 80%. Mrs. Ryan, where are you getting your information from? Can we afford to have a Trustee who would spread such misinformation to the public? This is an attempt by Mrs. Ryan to try and convince people she wants to do more than just save St. Paul’s. She did not make a believer out of me.

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