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Garden City votes to eliminate paid fire department

The  6-1 vote eliminates 11 positions in the paid department, which officials say will save the village $2 million a year.

Garden City Mayor Brian Daughney on Wednesday addressed plans to abolish the paid fire department. Resident Gerry Kelly opposed elimination of the department.  (Credit: Newsday / John Asbury)

The Garden City Village Board voted Wednesday night to eliminate its paid fire department.

The board voted 6-1,  with trustee Stephen Makrinos dissenting, to abolish the paid department effective Aug. 27. 

All paid firefighters were placed on administrative leave and told not to report to work Thursday.

The vote eliminated 11 paid positions, which officials said would save the village $2 million a year.

More than 100 residents packed Village Hall on Wednesday night, most there to defend the fire department and urge the board not to cut the paid firefighters.

The firefighters union argued shuttering the 90-year-old paid department would hurt public safety by solely relying on the village’s 100-member volunteer force.

Fire union officials said that despite the board’s vote to eliminate the department, firefighters and residents had 30 days to deliver petitions that could force a ballot measure in November or a special election.

Mayor Brian Daughney said the village should follow every other community on Long Island with volunteer firefighters. He said no other community that also has large populations, tall buildings and commercial districts, suffers from inadequate public safety and fire protection.

Garden City recorded three active fires in 2017, village officials said. The paid force receives $1.3 million in salaries with $900,000 in benefits.

“We have no problem in our village delivering the same service as other communities that don’t have paid contingents and they’re not burning down,” Daughney said. “We’re carrying a workforce that does not benefit the people carrying the bill — the taxpayers.”

Village officials said volunteer forces could not respond to calls until paid firefighters arrived.

The mayor said 3 percent of the village budget was used to maintain the fire department with its rising salaries. He dismissed claims about risking public safety as untrue. He cited contentious contract negotiations and said paid firefighters “refused to be reasonable” and “refused to get along with the volunteer force.”

Garden City Union President TJ Michon said the board turned down a contract with paid firefighters with a no layoff protection for five years.

“There was a consistent message sent from the board of trustees that ‘we no longer want professional firefighters. We no longer want you to be here,’” Michon said.

Residents pleaded with the board to postpone a vote and to maintain its paid force for resident protection.

Gerry Kelly, president of the Garden City western property owners association, told the board “not to put the nuclear option on the table.”

“You’re putting people on the street without notice,” Kelly said. “You shouldn’t disrespect firefighters, especially in New York. To do what you’re doing tonight undercuts everything I know as a resident in Garden City.”

Garden City’s vote to eliminate its paid department would leave Long Beach as the only remaining paid municipal force on Long Island. Nearly every other department on Long Island relies on volunteer firefighters.

MacArthur Airport in the Town of Islip also operates a paid rescue squad based in Ronkonkoma.

The Garden City department has been paired down from its staff of 36 firefighters a decade ago. Firefighters have been without a contract for seven years and are seeking a resolution through arbitration with the village.

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