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Agency knocks plan to have Suffolk County run firefighter training

The nonprofit agency that runs Suffolk's academy to train volunteer firefighters has lashed out at County Executive Steve Bellone's plan for a county takeover of the Yaphank complex, calling it "a recipe for disaster."

The Vocational Education and Extension Board issued the scathing statement after Bellone two weeks ago called for replacing the board and putting the academy under the county's Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services.

While Bellone has said his chief aim is to increase training at the academy, board officials said his claims that the nonprofit planned to cut training next year from six sessions to five for each of Suffolk's 109 fire department is incorrect. Instead, they said training would be increased to seven sessions in 2014.

Robert Holley, fire academy executive director, said replacing the existing staff with "an inexperienced workforce is a recipe for disaster. Without the personnel, who have sufficient training and experience in running the academy's programs, the entire operation would collapse."

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said he had not seen the board's statement but stood by the plan, which has backing of the heads of five countywide fire and emergency organizations because it will increase training sessions to eight next year.

"It's clear this initiative is all about providing additional training for first responders," he said.The statement is part of a multipronged effort by the board to preserve its role in running the academy under a contract now set to run out at year's end. The contract agency, one of only two such educational groups chartered by the state, has operated the academy for 71 years, with a $2.4 million budget, a full-time staff of 12 and 85 part-time professional firefighting trainers.The board noted the county from 2010 to 2013 cut funding for the academy by $259,000 and never paid for $87,250 in training sought by county fire officials under a $143,000 federal homeland grant for search and rescue teams. "It is pure hypocrisy to repeatedly cut a budget by five percent every year . . . and then allege fiscal mismanagement*/we don't seem to address this in the story. Can we? -cc," the board said

Board officials also note that the letter issused by the Bellone administration citing the support from heads of various chiefs councils does not necessarily represent the backing of local fire departments. "The presidents of these organization never discussed this takeover with their memberships, let alone take a vote," the board said.

William Sanok, VEEB's board chairman, said he has met with the fire chief councils in Southampton, Southold and Huntington and is to meet with the county chiefs association Sept. 8. VEEB officials say they also will go to the county legislature public safety committee Sept. 11 to press their case.

Scott Wayoldt, head of the Huntington Chiefs Council, said the 14-member group voted Monday to back the current operation and will begin a letter writing campaign in support.

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