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City leaders back plan to add career firefighters

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran will publicly unveil his plan to add four career leadership positions to the Rye Fire Department next month, with the blessing of the city manager and support from lawmakers.

According to City Manager Marcus Serrano, Corcoran will present his recommendation to establish a professional deputy chief position to head the department and employ three additional lieutenants on Sept. 13 during a City Council meeting.

“We’re planning on moving forward with [Corcoran’s] recommendations,” Serrano said, adding the decision will come with a hefty price tag of upwards of $200,000.

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.

City Manager Marcus Serrano and most of the Rye City Council have expressed their support for Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran’s plan to add additional career leadership positions to the Fire Department, which is estimated to cost $200,000. Corcoran will present his recommendations to the council in September. File photo

Despite the cost of the additional staffing, several members of the Rye City Council have already expressed their support for Corcoran’s plan, including Richard Mecca and Julie Killian, both Republicans.

The plan includes nixing the fire inspector position, which is currently filled by the department’s only professional lieutenant, Kurt Tietjen, and dispersing the position’s duties to the new lieutenants and the deputy fire chief.

Corcoran’s recommendation for the Fire Department, which he took over earlier this year, comes after a number of concerns related to its staffing, operations, and a diminishing volunteer base that spurred an official review that began when he assumed the role of public safety commissioner.

In January, the state Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, PESH, issued the Fire Department 19 serious procedural policy and operational standards violations, 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 not qualified to hold the position.

As part of a Freedom of Information Law request for training records submitted in April, the Review found that Larr, who previously served as the assistant chief, does not have the requisite training to be in command of fire scenes.

Corcoran was named to the position of public safety commissioner at the beginning of this year, after serving as Rye police commissioner since being hired by the city at the start of 2016.

Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat, said she supports Corcoran’s solution for the department. “He understands what needs to be done from a safety standpoint as well as looking at this as a liability issue,” she added. “He did a thorough review before coming to the city manager and the council with his recommendations [and] he was thoughtful in his analysis.”

In May, Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said he would support any plan by the public safety commissioner to rectify some of the issues within the Fire Department. “[Corcoran’s] assessment is what we are going to rely upon,” he told the Review at the time. “If that means hiring additional firefighters, then so be it.”

Sack could not be reached for additional comment, as of press time.

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