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OB Fire Companies Consider a Merger: Defeated Twice Before

Is there a possibility that the two Oyster Bay Fire Companies might merge? Oyster Bay Fire Company #1 Chief Anthony De Carolis said, “It’s certainly possible.”  He said, “The question came up in the wrong venue, at town hall during a hearing for the town board to certify us as a not-for-profit entity for tax exempt status for a loan to acquire property. Attorney Peter McKinnon representing Cove Neck Mayor Tom Zoller and Oyster Bay Cove Mayor Rosemary Bourne wanted this hearing put on hold to have it reviewed.”   

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto said he was willing to form a committee to look into a possible merger.  Oyster Bay Cove Mayor Rosemary Bourne said, in a telephone interview, “I’m thankful that Supervisor John Venditto  will head up a committee to look into a merger. That is wonderful. It’s an idea whose time has really come. We all said the service is fine. We  just believe it would be wonderful to have them merge.” 

Chief DeCarolis said of the timing of the request, “That was not appropriate since the village and the town know we are a private corporation.” He said the fire company will have to take out a loan to buy the house that came on the market and is just south of the fire house parking lot.  

Unlike the school district that has a reserve fund for capital improvements, Chief DeCarolis said, “The budget is not sufficiently high to do that. We have a physical plant and apparatus to maintain and need and reserve funds for catastrophic replacement for equipment. The budget is so small in comparison with a school district.”

 Mr. DeCarolis, who is an attorney in private life, said, “Peter McKinnon brought up the merger. It was not the proper forum, however Supervisor John Venditto said he would give us the right forum. He asked if we had any position on the suggestion. Our company voted unanimously for it years ago. If we continue the process and come up with a merger plan that works, it can be worked out. My answer for the record is – hopefully with the town’s help it can happen. Mr. Venditto pledged his resources to work out the details. The devil is in the details. It can definitely be done. We are effectively one department anyway. We respond to the same alarms. We each have about half the equipment. We, the Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1 has two ambulances – we used to have one but the volume of rescue calls is up. In part it is that the community is aging and also that some things that are deemed emergencies were not deemed emergencies before.

“At one time people would call an ambulance when they were half-dead; now we have more things we do: the standard of care is constantly increasing.

“The Atlantic Steamer Fire Company does not have an ambulance. They run a rescue truck with heavy equipment for automobile accidents. We don’t duplicate each other. We have different equipment. We have a tower ladder more suited for commercial buildings. [Commercial buildings are allowed to be 35 feet high in Oyster Bay.] The Atlantic Steamer company has a smaller ladder, specifically for use in some incorporated villages where the access is limited. [Many of the villages have wooded properties and narrow roads.] They also have an engine used for brush fires that we don’t have.

 

Consolidation?

Mr. DeCarolis said, “I do believe there certainly can be some cost savings by combining the companies; some operational efficiency by combining them. I don’t really know the numbers, but it needs to be looked at.”

He said, “If they closed the OBFC and used the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company there would be no tower ladder for the commercial property in Oyster Bay.  If they chose the other way around there would be no heavy rescue truck and no brush truck.”

When asked if they need to maintain both fire houses, he said, “Maybe.” He said while they don’t duplicate each other there is some overlap of equipment.

Additionally, while the OBFC has two ambulances, the ASFC has its water rescue group. They each do a special service to the community.

Mr. DeCarolis added that many fire companies today have paid employees and dispatchers but the Oyster Bay companies don’t. Locust Valley has a dispatcher they pay. In the case of a dispatcher, a 24/7 position that means having from four to five people to cover the spot, not just one person. Consider someone works eight hours for five days and there are 24 hours in a day, and seven days a week so it comes closer to five people, he estimated.

Chief DeCarolis said the OBFC has 71 members.

 

An Old Conversation

Atlantic Steamer Chief Ty Jimenez said of the two fire companies becoming one, “Truthfully, this is an old conversation. It is 15 years old. Originally they voted yes at first and we voted not to. Then we voted again about 10 years ago, and they voted no and we voted yes.

“I’m willing and if they [the villages or the town] want to do a feasibility study that would be fine. There are some hurdles,” he confided. “This Atlantic Steamer company will have 125 years of volunteering for the community in four years. There is a lot of pride in the name and what we do and have done.” 

Loosing the name of Atlantic Steamer is a hurdle and the history of the issue shows it is a difficult one to surmount.

“We can discuss it. I’m willing to sit down with Anthony DeCarolis and his membership to grease the way to get it done – and to be serious about it.”

 

They Work as One

Chief Jimenez added, “There are some issues – a mistrust. They voted for it and they didn’t. Then we did and they didn’t. It’s opening a wound. But when the whistle goes out, the mistrust is out the window and we respond and work together and provide a very polished and professional service to the community we serve.

“There is a chain of command and there is camaraderie between us – when the whistle blows that is what happens,” he said.

And, he added, “We are willing to get together and letting cooler heads prevail to discuss the situation. We have “no” issues firematically. It’s just the administrative side and I am one vote and have a membership of about 75 and everyone has a vote. We just lost two members this week, an EMT and a firefighter. The girl joined right out of high school but she is going to school at St. John’s and has two jobs. First things first, therefore she left. The numbers go up and down,” said Chief Jimenez.

“We have nothing to hide as a business, which is what we are,” he said.

“Ten years ago we voted yes and then we voted it down in an official referendum. We have had ongoing discussions ever since then. We’ve had Cove Neck Mayor Tom Zoller at our headquarters before and we are open for discussion. That was when Bob Bagan was Chief, when we were dedicating the boat house. We are always open for discussion and willing to sit down with all the mayors. I’m surprised Peter McKinnon used that forum, it was not the appropriate forum.”

In talking to residents, it appears that the common perception is that there are two complete fire companies in Oyster Bay and when there is a fire both come, duplicating the service. Chief Jimenez said he has tried to clear up that perception. He said, “I wanted a forum with the mayors. The information is not getting to the taxpayer. I understand the momentum to cut taxes. I’m not a big fan of government waste. I don’t think that is our story.

“We have very specialized equipment and I seriously doubt there would be any reduction in firematic costs. There are some administrative costs that could change. We both have attorneys. We use Tony LaMarca and they use James Cammarata, he is a member of their company. They are two separate private corporations. Our building was paid for by the blood and sweat of the members with 10 years of Bingo. [Supporters traveled to the Broadway Mall in Hicksville for Bingo games that raised the funds.]

“We have nothing to hide. We provide our financials to the Town of Oyster Bay and the villages on a quarterly basis. The combined budget is $1.4 million. When you consider the amount of territory we have to protect that is not a lot.

“We have a unique situation with the villages. Together, we have two big ladders. The first is operated by the OBFD and is a 100 ft. ladder for commercial property and the schools.

“Ours is a 75 ft. ladder with a smaller truck. In the villages you can’t get a big truck down the driveway and there are big houses of 10,000 square feet that require a big ladder to get to the roof for rescue,” he explained.

He said cutting the budget - which is for two departments – in a substantial way could make it impossible for them to operate.

 

Different Needs for 

Different Sites

Chief Jimenez said, “The issue is the need for different equipment. We cover all the way to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to the east: and to Cleft Road to the west, to the other side of Mill Hill Road, toward Planting Fields. The Bayville Fire Department takes over on the other side of Cleft Road. We meet the Locust Valley Fire Company by Beaver Dam. 

“We go all the way to Northern Boulevard where some severe accidents happen. Our equipment has been purchased for what may happen. Consider the air crash in Oyster Bay Cove. And,” he said, “We do a pretty good job with the budget we have. And, we are obliged to follow mandates put on us by regulatory agencies on the federal and state level and by OSHA. That includes having to train the firefighters on the use of the new Bail Out Kit which cost $100,000. It is a rope and descending apparatus to get firefighters out of a window in emergencies. We just worked with less to cover that cost. To work within our budget we get our rescue boat gas from the town, and not Hess, to save monthly. We are constantly looking to squeeze more out of less.”

 

Firematic Numbers

Chief DeCarolis said, “The number of firefighters is not a lot of people, keeping in mind that a number are older and not active and not accruing additional time for retirement. There are very strict rules by the state to accrue years of service. An older member who doesn’t respond to a lot of alarms does not accrue years of service.”

The town recently was in litigation with the fire companies and Chief DeCarolis explained it was a question of the equal employment act. “There was an age issue. After age 62 they couldn’t accrue retirement benefits. It was ruled unconstitutional. Basically it allows that people 62, 63, 64, 65 who perform a lot of emergency calls can accrue benefits when they are older than 62.”

 

More Space Needed

With the purchase of the house next door, the OBFC will have more space available. Chief DeCarolis explained there are two reasons, the first is safety and the second is strategic. He said, “We haven’t had a physical plant change in 40 years and have gone from in 1989 with 550 calls to now, 900 calls. So there is an increase in volume;  and reporting requirements; an increase in safety equipment; and procedural requirements  thrust upon us. 

“Additionally, the OBFC house does not have a ramp and when a  vehicle exits onto South Street [Route 106] the traffic is increasing and we have had many near misses and the Newsday reporter saw that when he visited the firehouse. 

“Firehouses have ramps and can back their trucks in. Potentially – some day [they have no funds now] perhaps there will be a reconfiguration of the fire house to have apparatus to exit from south side of the building. It makes sense but it couldn’t happen without this purchase – so we can make it safer in the future.”

That leads, Mr. DeCarolis said, to Supervisor Venditto commenting that it appears that this might also be good for a consolidation some day. We are not planning for it now...but it adds a possibility.”