Garden City changes fire station staffing

The headquarters of the Garden City Fire Department

The headquarters of the Garden City Fire Department at 351 Stewart Ave. in Garden City. (Aug. 27, 2012) (Credit: Steven Pfost)

The Garden City Village board has passed a recommendation calling for the elimination of staffing in the village fire department's satellite stations during nighttime hours, despite firefighters arguing the staff restructuring could slow response times.

The board voted 7-1 last week to eliminate nighttime staff at the Edgemere Road and Clinton Road stations, and place four paid firefighters and a lieutenant at headquarters on Stewart Avenue. Current required staffing levels are two paid firefighters and a lieutenant at headquarters, and two paid firefighters at each satellite station on a 24-hour basis. Volunteer firefighters augment their paid colleagues.

"This is something that can work and we can provide the same level of safety," trustee Nicholas Episcopia said.

The two engines at headquarters will be used by paid firefighters only, while the engines at the two satellite houses will be available to volunteer firefighters as necessary, village officials said. Paid firefighters will work 12-hour tours, instead of 10 hours for the day tour and 14 hours for the night tour, officials said.

The board in July received an 85-page analysis of the department's performance from the International City/County Management Association. The new operating procedure will go into effect as soon as possible and the chief will report back to the board 30 days later, Mayor Donald Brudie said.

"I don't think we should implement this recommendation," said Brudie, who voted against it.

The first recommendation implemented from the report was to allow the Nassau County Fire Communication Center to handle all dispatch calls, starting in August. Since then, the department's average response time has improved compared with when calls were dispatched by its own paid firefighters, village officials said. But paid firefighters dispute the claim and argue the switch has slowed response to some calls.

The moves are a way to improve efficiency under budgetary constraints while minimizing tax increases, village officials said. They pointed out that not staffing the satellite stations is based on low call volume at night, when vehicles can move through the 5.3-square-mile village more quickly.

"We are actually doing something like a business does," trustee Brian Daughney said.

But firefighters at the meeting argued staffing reductions and station closings could jeopardize the safety of the public and firefighters.

Village resident and retired FDNY firefighter Seamus McNeela said, "You're putting all your eggs in one basket by having members respond from one firehouse."

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