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Village board, union reach deal to eliminate Garden City's paid fire department

The move will save taxpayers $2 million a year, officials say, and align the village with most other municipalities on Long Island  that rely solely on volunteer firefighters. 

The Village Board voted July 25 to abolish

The Village Board voted July 25 to abolish the 90-year-old paid fire department and rely only on a force of volunteer firefighters.   Photo Credit: Lou Minutoli

Garden City officials and paid firefighters reached a settlement Friday that will dissolve the department's paid union and allow the village to rely solely on a volunteer force.

The Village Board voted July 25 to abolish the 90-year-old paid fire department, which works in conjunction with more than 100 volunteer firefighters serving the village. Village officials said the move was aimed at saving taxpayers $2 million annually.

Village fire chiefs, who are volunteers, will assume control of all staffing decisions in the department, according to the settlement, which must be approved during Tuesday night’s village board meeting and also requires the board to repeal its initial decision to eliminate the fire department, citing a legal technicality.

In seeking to eliminate the paid department, board members had cited increased costs, work rules and the inability for volunteer and paid firefighters to work together or respond until paid firefighters were on scene first.

“The agreement allows the village to proceed with an all-volunteer fire force like virtually every other community on Long Island,” village officials said in a statement.

A group of six that includes firefighters and residents  agreed to drop their lawsuit against the village, which led to a temporary restraining order suspending the village board’s decision. Firefighters also agreed to drop any further legal challenges.

Union leaders and the 12 paid firefighters have agreed to the tentative settlement, village officials said. They added that all but two firefighters on paid leave have retired or taken positions with other departments. Another firefighter remains on disability.

The union has not had a contract for seven years and also reached settlement on retroactive 2 percent annual pay raises. The village made additional payments to settle claims as well as termination pay and early retirements. A condition calls for the union to be decertified and halts what village board members said was an attempt to “double or triple the size of the paid contingent.”

Village officials said the settlement will save the village “millions of dollars in future years.”

The elimination of paid firefighters leaves Setauket and the City of Long Beach with the only remaining paid fire departments. Officials in Setauket recently created four paid firefighter positions to adhere to Civil Service rules.

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