After months of reviewing the Rye Fire Department, the city’s public safety commissioner is recommending several changes.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran, who took over the department at the beginning of this year, told the Review that he has recommended to the City Council establishing a professional deputy chief position to lead the department and employing three additional lieutenants to command each fire company.
As a result, the fire inspector position, which is currently filled by the department’s only professional lieutenant, Kurt Tietjen, will be eliminated and its duties will be dispersed amongst the new lieutenants from each company and the anticipated deputy fire chief position.
“Supervision of the department is an issue that has to be addressed,” Corcoran said, adding that the City Council is fully supportive of the plan that he presented to the city in June. “Restructuring the department is critically important for the city.”
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.
Corcoran’s recommendations come after several concerns within the Fire Department related to staffing, operations and a dwindling volunteer base that spurred his review that began 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, and the city has struggled to rectify several of those infractions related to the chief’s training requirements. The violations were prompted by former fire Chief Mike Billington’s lack of training.
Since Billington’s exit, the Fire Department has been in command of newly elected Chief David Larr, who is currently not qualified to hold the position.
As part of a Freedom of Information Law, FOIL, request for training records that was submitted in April, the Review was able to confirm that Larr, who previously served as the assistant chief, does not have the requisite training to be in command of fire scenes.
As of press time, Larr has not been approved by the City Council to officially become the chief. However, he has been operating in that capacity since being elected as chief by the volunteers earlier this year. Larr recently obtained his interior firefighter bailout certification, but that still does not qualify him to assume the position of chief.
“[Corcoran’s] concern was the lack of supervision within the department, which we feel he has addressed with this recommendation,” said Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican and member of the city Fire Advisory Committee, adding that Tietjen would be the “logical” successor for the position of deputy fire chief.
Tietjen declined to comment about whether or not he is interested in the new position, which would have to be filled through a civil service examination.
John Castelhano, the president of the local firefighters’ union, endorsed the move by Corcoran, saying he is “a true professional” and that he has done an “amazing” job since taking over the department.
Corcoran said he’s hoping to start moving forward on the changes by September, adding that the department also hired another professional firefighter recently to fill a vacancy.
On July 14, Rye resident Clyde Pitts, who has served as a volunteer firefighter with the department since 2012, graduated from the Career Fire Academy.
“It’s always nice to elevate from within,” Corcoran said about Pitts, who received two awards—one for leadership and one for his academics—for his time at the academy. “To come to the career side as a proven leader, and with a wealth of experience, is always great. He’s clearly invested in the community and he’s going to do an excellent job.”