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Garden City board to vote on eliminating its paid fire department

The village voted in July to abolish the

The village voted in July to abolish the Garden City Fire Department. Credit: Steven Pfost

Garden City trustees are to vote Wednesday night on whether to abolish the village's paid fire department, one of only two paid municipal forces on Long Island.

The village board vote, announced in the meeting agenda, would eliminate all “paid/career” firefighter positions, which union officials said includes about a dozen firefighters, effective Aug. 27.

Garden City had maintained a paid force for the past 90 years, union president T.J. Michon said. Village officials have reduced the paid fire department to 13 firefighters from 36 in the past decade, Michon said. 

Village officials have said they have made cuts to the fire department in recent years to avoid raising taxes.

Paid firefighters said they learned of the planned vote when the agenda was released Monday night.

Village officials said they have been considering eliminating the paid fire department for a long time, to mirror volunteer forces throughout Long Island "at a great service to taxpayers."

"The current paid force costs our taxpayers more than $2 million," village trustees said in a statement issued Tuesday. "The paid firefighters consistently seek work restrictions and rules that restrict our operations that could increase our annual costs by millions more." 

Board members avoided two firefighter layoffs in 2016 by reaching $320,000 in savings through voluntary retirements.

The paid force works in conjunction with about 100 volunteer firefighters to respond 24 hours a day, village officials said.

If the board eliminates the fire department, Michon said, residents have 30 days to collect petition signatures to file for a referendum or special election on whether to eliminate the paid fire department.

“Then it would be up to the residents whether they want to abolish the paid fire department, or not,” Michon said.

Garden City firefighters have been without a contract for more than seven years and remain locked in arbitration with the village. 

Long Beach has the only other paid municipal fire department on Long Island, with 17 paid firefighter positions, in addition to eight paid paramedics.

The Town of Islip's MacArthur Airport Fire Rescue squad is a paid department. It serves the Ronkonkoma airport and provides hazardous materials response to nearby volunteer forces. 

Long Beach officials said they had no immediate plans to reduce the city's paid force, which works with more than 100 volunteers. The city had commissioned a report about restructuring its fire department to eliminate positions in order to hire paramedics. A state financing board recommended last month that Long Beach separate its paid firefighters and paramedics from working dual roles.

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