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Five-Alarm Response

Emotions ignite after

trustees vote for layoffs

Emotions remain high nearly a week after a raucous Garden City village board meeting at which trustees voted to lay off six firefighters and demote one officer. With the standing-room-only crowd of residents and firefighter families spilling into the hallway of village hall at the Thursday evening meeting, the board voted 6-2 to make the cuts, in an effort to save more than $900,000.

“The model we need is to have eight [firefighters] during the day, eight during the night, and a vacation relief guy for nights and days, plus three on disability. That’s 21, and now we have 26 plus five,” Deputy Mayor/Fire Commissioner John Watras told the board. “We’re actually going down to 21 and four, but we really have 18 firefighters that are available to show up.”

In other words, Watras said the fire department could operate with four lieutenants and 18 firefighters. For nearly a century, volunteers have augmented the professional staff. This makes the Village of Garden City, along with the city of Long Beach, the only two Long Island communities to carry a hybrid department of paid and volunteer firefighters.

“My opposition to the layoffs of six firefighters is no secret,” said Mayor Donald Brudie, who was joined by Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh in voting against the resolution. “As mayor, I am opposed to reducing the staff of a department charged with life-saving and property-protection responsibilities. The budget process has just begun and the board is taking these steps without first exploring reductions in other non-life-threatening areas where expenditure reductions would not have a draconian impact on our residents, their property and their safety.”

Before the vote, public comment brought a veritable conga line of speakers, most of whom spoke passionately against the layoffs, expressing emotions ranging from surprise and incredulousness to desperation and anger, particularly at the fact that news of this motion had allegedly been released just days before. Longtime resident Tim Gaynor was especially incensed.

“I work in labor relations so I have a little bit of a different take in terms of how stuff is done,” Gaynor said. “I don’t see the transparency of [this process]. The first I heard of this was through an email last night from one of your paid firefighters. I had no knowledge of this whatsoever, and I think that’s kind of deceiving. I was actually in support of the closing of firehouses, but I didn’t think there would be an impact on the paid guys. If people get laid off, you will not hear the last of me.”

Firehouse closings were among the recommendations in a report issued this past summer by the International/City County Management Association (ICMA). Commissioned by the Village Board, the report proposed eliminating nighttime staff at the Edgemere Road and Clinton Road satellite stations and changing dispatch calls from being directly placed to the three Garden City firehouses to the Firecom dispatcher as a means of reducing response times. Residents recoiled at the proposals.

Watras said he used the ICMA report as well as meetings with fire chiefs within the department to arrive at the plan to lay off six firemen and demote one lieutenant to the rank of firefighter.

While many residents expressed concerns that the cuts would compromise safety, Trustees John DeMaro, Nicholas Episcopia, Dennis Donnelly, Brian Daughney, John Watras and Laurence J. Quinn were not convinced, and voted for the motion.

“Fifteen years ago we had the same number of people arriving at your fire as 10 years ago, five years ago, last year and a year from now,” said Quinn. “The actual number of paid firefighters under [this] plan is exactly the same. We’re not closing firehouses. We’re going to have the same guys show up.”

“And we’ll probably have more [firefighters on the scene] because the volunteers get there quicker,” added Daughney.

The effective date of the changes has not been set.

At the meeting, Brudie pointed out that collective bargaining isn’t over, and a reversal of the resolution is still possible. But this was little consolation to firefighter family members who left the boardroom in tears with children in tow. At press time, Village Administrator Robert Schoelle responded via email that the village had not yet received the actual names of the six laid off firefighters from the Civil Service Commission and a call to Chief Charles Cavarra was not returned.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Lieutenant Frank Roca, a 23-year member of the Garden City Fire Department whose rank will be reduced to firefighter as part of the resolution.

“My heart goes out to these guys,” he said outside of the boardroom after the vote. “These guys left good jobs [to become Garden City firefighters]…But right now, it was just thrown away.”

The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.

News

Stewart Manor Fire Department to host open house

You hear the horn sound multiple times a day, around the clock, but did you ever wonder what happens during the critical moments after a distress call is made to the firehouse? Who are the volunteers who are stopped in their tracks at the sound of that horn and dash off to help a neighbor in need? You’d be surprised to learn that it could be the gentleman you see walking his dog after work in the evenings, the woman you see standing at the bus stop with her children every morning, or even the young man you used to see playing with his friends in front of your house.

April 19 fundraiser to be

held for baby with rare disease

Tom Onorato, the nephew and office manager of Dr. Joseph Onorato Garden City practice All Island Dermatology Plastic Surgery & Laser Center, recently celebrated the birth of a baby boy with his wife Melissa. Both were thrilled when Thomas Kevin Onorato came into the world on September 10, 2013. Despite being born five weeks early, baby Thomas managed to surprise his parents with his indomitable spirit and was sent home with a clean bill of health. A mere four days later began the fight for Thomas’ life.


Sports

Easter Egg Hunt For Pre-K To Grade 5

The Garden City Recreation Department is once again sponsoring the annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, April 19 at Community Park’s fields. This Year Three hunt will be held at 10 a.m. sharp with three age divisions: preschool to kindergarten, grades 1 and 2; and grades 3 to 5.

Special eggs will be stuffed and hidden for all divisions. Each hunt will also feature a grand prize (an Easter basket filled with goodies) which will go to the youngster who finds the egg marked “#1 Lucky Egg.” For further information about the hunt, please call the recreation department at 516-465-4075.

Commitment at Kellenberg

Garden City residents continue to excel while participating in the athletic program over at Uniondale’s Kellenberg Memorial High School.

Each season, coaches of Kellenberg sports pick one player from their squad who has demonstrated remarkable commitment to the team through their hard work at practice and in competition.

The Village of Garden City has a long history of residents who've excelled both on the academic and athletic side of the ledger at Kellenberg. This time around, seniors Kelly O’Donnell (varsity cheerleading), Stacy Madelmayer (varsity girls basketball) and Bryan Salecker (swimming and diving team) have all been awarded the Commitment Award for their outstanding efforts, devotion, hard work and commitment to their respective teams.


Calendar

Going To The Birds (Sanctuary)

Saturday, April 26

Nassau Coaches Meet

Saturday, April 26

Making A Beautiful Noise

Friday, May 2



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com