In the midst of petitions to the city administration from the Rye Professional Firefighters Association to address the lack of trained fire personnel, the Rye Fire Department has now been ordered to comply with a state law as a result of failing to fulfill basic municipal requirements.
If some of the violations aren’t abated by Jan. 26, after press time, the city is set to begin seeing fines of $200 per day.
On Jan. 6, the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, PESH, part of the New York state Department of Labor, issued a notice of violation to the city of Rye for failing to comply with 20 standards set by the Public Employee Safety and Health Act of 1980.
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, OSHA.
The PESH act sets forth policy to establish a safe and healthy working environment for municipal employees.
The Review has learned that the city Fire Department is in obstruction of 20 procedural policy and operational standards, 19 of which are dubbed as “serious” violations.
Of the violations, several pertain to the department’s failure to provide annual required training to employees and properly inspected protective equipment, and for not implementing suitable workplace policies regarding procedures for handling emergencies. Additionally, the department failed to make available certain vaccinations to employees with occupational exposure.
According to City Manager Marcus Serrano, the city has already begun addressing a number of the violations, which were a result of a random inspection last May. He added that the city has also requested an extension for a handful of the citations, some of which are ordered to be abated by Jan. 26.
According to John Castelhano, the president of the local firefighters’ union, the recent violations are a direct result of the lack of staffing within the Fire Department, which it has dealt with as a result of a declining volunteer base. “A lot of this comes down to staffing,” he said. “In addition to that, it also comes down to a need for a full-time chief.”
Castelhano said he hopes that city Police Commissioner Michael Corcoran, who was recently appointed as the commissioner of the new Department of Public Safety with the task of overseeing both the Police and Fire departments, will hone in on the lack of staffing. “We feel like we’re not being consulted, and hopefully [Corcoran] will help us with staffing,” he said.
As of press time, the Fire Department is managed by a volunteer staff, which consists of one chief and two assistant chiefs.
While the department currently employs just 17 paid firefighters and as little as 30 active volunteers, 12 of whom are trained to fight indoor fires, Castelhano said the department is currently wrestling with keeping up with the industry’s standards, which calls for 15 trained firefighters responding to an emergency.
Further, the city Fire Department also struggles to comply with OSHA’s “two-in, two-out” rule, which mandates that if two professional firefighters enter a burning building, there must be two other stationed outside observing in case a rescue is necessary.
Despite the recent complications, Castelhano told the Review that the city could apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response, SAFER, grant through FEMA to address the lack of staffing.
SAFER is designed to assist local fire departments with staffing and deployment capabilities. As of press time, the application period will close on Feb. 10, and according to Castelhano, the city currently has no plan to apply.
Barry Nechis, a captain of the New Rochelle Fire Department who has written several SAFER grant applications, said the Rye Fire Department would justifiably be a candidate for grant funding. He added that New Rochelle’s Fire Department was able to add eight firefighters in 2011 as a result of SAFER funding. “Rye is in much worse shape than we are and could fit the criteria for their funding,” he said.
According to Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican and member of the Fire Advisory Committee, while there is no concrete solution at the moment, the city would definitely entertain an outside funding method. “I wouldn’t disagree with [Castelhano’s] point of view,” Mecca said. “We’re open to funding opportunities.”