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Long IslandPolitics

Suffolk fire and rescue agency pick draws criticism

The chairman of the Suffolk Commission on Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services has sent a lengthy letter critical of the appointment of Joel Vetter as chief of fire rescue services, the agency’s third highest job.

In a letter to county lawmakers Thursday, Timothy Crafts, commission chairman, cited a “number of questions and concerns” about Vetter’s qualifications for the $111,160-a-year post, including “communication skills, ability to motivate others as well as prior performance.”

Crafts questioned the usefulness of filling the job, which has been vacant “for a significant period of time . . . Implementing an additional level of management especially with the wrong candidate can only create issues,” he said.

Crafts also blamed Vetter for delays in renovating the county fire academy in Yaphank. “It is clear that mismanagement . . . is a major contributor," he wrote.

In addition, Crafts said a recent desk audit altered qualifications for the job in a way that appeared to tailor them to Vetter’s credentials. He cited the fact that a requirement for emergency medical technician training was added, limiting the field of competitors.

But while Crafts said the commission issued a unanimous "no confidence" vote on the appointment on Aug. 29, another commissioner, Ryan Murphy, said in a separate letter no such vote was taken.

Murphy, who represents the county volunteer firemen’s association, wrote on Sept. 14 that Crafts’ letter went too far. Murphy said he was “disgusted by the personal attack against Vetter," which did “not accurately express the sentiment of all” commission members.

“At no point . . . was a vote of no confidence conducted,” Murphy said. He called on Crafts to withdraw his letter until the entire commission can review it.

Vetter was promoted provisionally to the new post June 25 after Civil Service conducted a four-month desk audit, sought by Vetter, that determined his job duties went beyond his existing job title, said Alan Schneider, county personnel director.

Schneider said the EMT requirement was added to the job description at the request of FRES deputy commissioner John Jordan.

FRES Commissioner Joseph Williams, his deputy, Jordan, and Vetter referred calls to the county executive’s office. Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman said, “It’s a Civil Service issue, but we’re looking into the matter.”

Vetter, 46, was a point man in the administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on plans for a $2 million new phone app, called Rave, that alerts first responders to an active shooter crisis at a school.

Before the promotion, Vetter was a $101,581-a-year FRES coordinator of emergency medical services. He earlier worked in the police and health departments, starting in 2005.

Vetter also is also a former Holbrook fire chief and fire commissioner with nearly three decades of experience as a volunteer firefighter.

FRES is the policymaking body on volunteer fire training and mutual aid issues.

 Vetter still must take a competitive Civil Service exam to keep the job permanently.

The deadline for applying for the exam is Sept. 28, and Crafts’ letter said only three people in the department qualify to take the promotional test.

Schneider said because of the controversy, he plans to delay the deadline and make it an open test.

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