Fox 5 Fire District Over Spending and Out of Control
Posted in the Ridge Forum
#1 Mar 19, 2011
MYFOXNY.COM - Fire Districts on Long Island are under scrutiny as communities as diverse as Dix Hills and Gordon Heights question how money is spent.
Volunteer firefighters -- 20,000 of them -- form the backbone of Long Island's fire and emergency rescue system, and it might seem as though costs are low.
But Nassau and Suffolk have 180 separate fire departments with budgets in the millions. And most are almost right next door to each other. Dix Hills, with a $3.9 million budget, is 3 miles away from Commack, which spends $3.8 million, and 7 miles from Huntington Manor, which spends $4.7 million.
Taxpayers foot the bill.
"Volunteer fire fighters deserve all the praise you can give them. They come out at all hours of the night," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Suburban Institute. "There still has to be a balance between cost and showing them respect and providing services that are efficient and effective."
Many fire departments pay dispatchers, medics, EMS folks and business managers. Salaries add up and so do volunteer incentives like property tax breaks, some free college tuition, and pensions. Volunteers qualify for perks by responding to a percentage of calls per month. That's one reason why when the alarms sounds, many show up. So pension bills are high.
In Huntington Manor, for example, the district spends $375,000 a year on benefits for 125 volunteers.
Vehicles are expensive too. Each house has its own fleet. Long Island has about 1,792 fire and EMS vehicles, according to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency. The FDNY has 792. At least 90 Long Island fire departments have heavy-duty rescue trucks that carry "the jaws of life" and cost about $800,000. The FDNY has 5, although every ladder company has "the jaws of life."
"I don't think you can make a case that we need as many fire trucks as many firehouses that we have in most communities," Hofstra's Levy said.
"You can't possibly believe that having all these little fiefdoms on Long Island is an efficient way to function," said former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. "It's not."
Volunteers and elected commission resist change. They enjoy perks like big club rooms and bars in some
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