The city’s public safety commissioner is considering adding more paid firefighter positions to address the Fire Department’s lack of professional personnel, while also attempting to rectify ongoing violations against the department.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran said he would explore making the recommendation to add more paid personnel after completing his review of the Fire Department, which started when he was appointed as the city’s public safety commissioner in January. Corcoran had previously been hired by the city in February 2016 to serve as its police commissioner.
“That’s one area that concerns me,” said Corcoran, referring to the lack of staffing within the department. “We’re definitely looking to address that issue.”
Last May, the city Fire Advisory Committee recommended the addition of four paid positions to the department’s roster. That never came to fruition, however, after the City Council approved its 2017 budget that didn’t include any additional funding for the hires.
While the department, which is comprised of both paid and volunteer firefighters, currently employs just 17 paid firefighters, Corcoran said he is also seeking to bolster the volunteer front.
With as little as 30 active volunteers, 12 of whom are able to fight indoor fires, the Fire Department is currently wrestling to keep up with industry standards, which calls for 15 trained firefighters to respond to an emergency.
“Getting volunteers is often very difficult, especially considering it’s a big commitment and there’s a lot of training,” Corcoran said. “In light of the current climate, it’s very difficult to get volunteers in any profession, but we’ll be looking into ways to bolster the volunteer force.”
The Fire Department is managed by a volunteer staff, which consists of one chief and two assistant chiefs.
John Castelhano, the president of the local firefighters’ union, said he supports Corcoran’s idea to beef up paid staffing.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “We all want what’s best for the community, and if they are going to add staffing to the department, we’re happy about that.”
Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican and member of the city Fire Advisory Committee, also said he favors a plan to add more paid firefighters. “It’s good to have someone that’s not so close to the department to make that recommendation,” he said of Corcoran.
The councilman was a member of the city committee last May when it also recommended adding more professional positions.
The news of Corcoran’s looming recommendation to add paid positions comes with added significance, as the city is awaiting approval from an inspector from the state Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, PESH, on resolving several violations of the Public Employee Safety and Health Act, according to Rye City Manager Marcus Serrano.
In January, PESH determined that the city Fire Department was is in violation of 20 procedural policy and operational standards.
PESH, which covers all state and local government workplaces, including government authorities, school districts, and paid and volunteer fire departments, provides policy guidance and conducts unannounced mandatory inspections for violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The Public Employee Safety and Health Act of 1980 set forth policy to establish a safe and healthy working environment for municipal employees.
According to Corcoran, the city will be able to rectify 19 of the violations it was ordered to comply with, relating to employee training, inspections of equipment, and establishing workplace policies among several other items.
Despite that, the commissioner said the city is still struggling to resolve one of the violations relating to the training of the department’s volunteer fire chief. “That’s a work in progress and will probably take a bit more time,” Corcoran said.
The violation shows that fire Chief Mike Billington did not receive more training and education than the general membership of the Fire Department.
And as of press time, there is no immediate solution to resolve that matter, according to Corcoran.
There is also currently no timeframe for when Corcoran will complete his review of the Fire Department.
But whenever the time comes, the commissioner will have the backing of the mayor. “[Corcoran’s] assessment is what we are going to rely upon,” Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, told the Review. “If that means hiring additional firefighters, then so be it.”