After being tagged the department that was “staffed for failure” years ago by former City Manager Frank Culross, the Rye Fire Department will send three individuals to the academy next month as part of a plan to add more professional firefighters.
Approved by the Rye City Council on Sept. 13, the plan put forward by Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran will change the organizational structure of the department from the top down with the establishment of a career deputy chief position, the creation of three more professional lieutenant positions and the addition of three more professional firefighters.
“I’m very pleased the council supported my recommendation to add more professional firefighters,” Corcoran told the Review. “They definitely saw the need for change and I’m very excited about what we’ll accomplish with this restructuring.”
As part of the restructuring, the plan involves eliminating the department’s fire inspector position, which is currently filled by its only professional lieutenant, Kurt Tietjen, and dispersing inspector duties to the new lieutenants and deputy fire chief.
The deputy fire chief will be in charge of overseeing the department’s administrative and investigative duties, and will serve as its human resources and health and safety enforcement component.
According to current City Manager Marcus Serrano, in total, the move to employ three more professional firefighters will amount to $419,518 against the city budget next year, not including any future salary increases, and will increase the tax rate by 1.78 percent.
The Fire Department, which has four companies—one hook and ladder company, two engine and hose companies, and a fire police patrol unit—currently employs 18 professional firefighters and has roughly 30 active volunteers, 12 of whom are trained to fight indoor fires.
It will cost the city approximately $93,000 to send the three individuals to the Career Fire Academy. Training for the prospective employees will begin on Oct. 2 and will end in January 2018.
The approval of the plan comes after several concerns within the Fire Department related to staffing, operations and a dwindling volunteer base that spurred a review by Corcoran at the beginning of the year.
In January, the state Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, PESH, determined the department was in violation of 19 serious procedural policy and operational standards, some of which were prompted by former fire Chief Mike Billington’s lack of training.
Billington left the department earlier this year, and it has been in the command of Chief David Larr, who is also currently not qualified to hold the position.
According to Corcoran, whose oversight from police commissioner was expanded to the position of public safety commissioner at the beginning of this year, Larr’s status as the chief of the department is pending while he receives the requisite training to serve in that capacity.
Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican and member of the city Fire Advisory Committee, could not be reached for comment, as of press time.
John Castelhano, the president of the local firefighters’ union, could not be reached for comment, as of press time.