With the addition of two new paid firefighters to Rye’s roster, the city Fire Department isn’t just getting back up to snuff; it’s also making history.
Cea Fong, one of two new additions to the Rye Fire Department after two firefighters retired in July, marks the first-ever career female firefighter to serve within the city’s ranks.
“It’s a good feeling,” Fong said. “Being a firefighter is something I wanted my whole life. I worked really hard to get that job the first time, so having a chance to stay with this career is great.”
While Fong said she’s elated to join the department, her addition to the city roster comes after a brief but tumultuous stint following an abrupt cut to Port Chester’s paid firefighting staff, when she and three other staff members lost their jobs in May this year.
“It was terrible what was done to them in Port Chester,” said John Castelhano, president of the Rye fire union. “But Rye stepped up and did something good.”
Ryan Iarocci, the city’s other recent hire, is also coming from the now defunct department in Port Chester.
Fong, having been the only female firefighter to come through the Westchester Academy and the only female firefighter in Port Chester, is used to facing adversity, however.
“Being a woman, I didn’t have anyone in my family that was a firefighter,” she said, noting that the lack of connections can make it harder for one to secure a job.
Strength training, Fong said, has also been an obstacle during her quest to make it as a firefighter.
“I think everyone faces their own obstacles,” she said. “But there’s a lot of strength requirements that may have been harder for me as a woman.”
So far, both Fong and Iarocci’s welcome from the rest of the city Fire Department as well as the Rye City Council has been warm.
“We were fortunate that we were able to get fully trained firefighters,” said Councilman Richard Mecca, a Republican.
In most cases, Mecca explained, new hires—especially those fresh out of the academy—have to be trained for months on the job before they’re up to par.
While Fong said she has some work to do, such as catching up with street layouts and learning how the city’s rigs operate, Castelhano said both hires are bound to mesh well since the Rye and Port Chester fire departments have already trained together in the past.
“We’re very excited,” he said. “I think everyone is excited.”
According to Mecca, despite the addition of two new firefighters—currently the city has 17 paid firefighters—the City Council and City Manager Marcus Serrano still continue to mull over the potential hiring of an additional four paid staffers.
Staffing has been an issue at the forefront of city government discussions ever since former City Manager Frank Culross said the Fire Department was “staffed for failure” in 2014.
Fong will earn a starting salary of $57,783 and Iarocci will earn $65,601.