A newly elected Rye fire chief does not qualify to hold the position, leading to concerns over his status as the department’s commanding officer during emergency situations.
As part of a Freedom of Information Law, FOIL, request for training records that was submitted in April, the Review has confirmed that newly promoted volunteer Chief David Larr, who previously served as an assistant chief, does not have the requisite certification or qualifications to be in command of fire scenes.
Larr was elected by the volunteers earlier this year alongside volunteer Capt. Dan Bochicchio, a member of the Milton Point Engine and Hose Company—one of Rye’s three fire companies— who was promoted to assistant chief.
Larr’s records shows that he is not an interior firefighter, which is required to assume the position of chief, which has not yet been approved by the City Council and the public safety commissioner. The training records, which serve as a way to identify the qualifications of both paid and volunteer firefighters, also show evidence that Larr has a 19-year gap from 1996 to 2015 in which he was absent from the department and did not receive any training.
Bochicchio’s records indicate that he has the training to be classified as an interior firefighter and has actively received training every year since 2012. Since joining the department in 1995, the volunteer has had a few absences in which he did not receive training, however.
John Castelhano, the president of the professional firefighters’ union, told the Review the news is a “big issue,” as Larr is currently in command during fire scenes despite never being officially approved as chief by the City Council and the city’s public safety commissioner.
According to city Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran, Larr has only been authorized to assist with commanding a fire scene while his training is under review by the state Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, PESH. “He hasn’t been put in command by me,” he said.
Corcoran added that after the state’s determination, Larr’s promotion is still subject to his own review.
Originally, city officials had hoped the newly elected chief would qualify by state standards to be in command in order to finally rectify several violations that were ordered earlier this year by PESH, which provides policy guidance and conducts unannounced mandatory inspections for violations of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In January, PESH, which covers all state and local government workplaces, determined the Fire Department was in violation of 19 serious procedural policy and operational standards, including several infractions relating to the chief’s training requirements. The training violations were prompted by former fire Chief Mike Billington’s lack of training. The department was also handed one minor violation not relating to training.
“We’re hoping [the new chiefs] clear the hurdle,” said Rye City Manager Marcus Serrano, who explained it would be the final step in resolving its issues with the state bureau.
Despite that optimism, however, Corcoran said the confusion within the department reinforces the need for a modification of the chiefs’ structure, saying that he plans to enact a policy in the coming weeks that is consistent with the City Charter.
According to the charter, the professional firefighters are supposed to be in command of the Fire Department unless another individual, such as a well-trained and active chief, is authorized by the public safety commissioner to be in charge.
The charter, which was changed last November as a result of a referendum establishing the public safety commissioner position, has always mandated the career firefighters to be in command, Corcoran said.
“I’m grateful for the volunteers, but we need the best possible trained firefighters in command at all times in case of major incidents,” Corcoran told the Review. “The new policy will increase standards across the board for all volunteer firefighters.”
Larr could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, as of press time.