The Town of Babylon has declared a state of emergency and is directing all fire and rescue calls in North Amityville to neighboring fire departments after town officials became concerned that a mass firing of members in the North Amityville Fire Co. could impact the health and safety of residents.
Babylon Central Fire and Rescue Alarm will now assign all emergency calls to the Copiague, North Lindenhurst and Amityville fire departments along with the East Farmingdale Fire Co., according to Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer.
The town on Friday also notified North Amityville Fire Co. that it would no longer be contracting with it for services. The town had scheduled a public hearing for later this month on the approval of a nearly $3.2 million budget for the company.
The letter stated that the decision is based on not only on the company’s "lack of timely response time, but allegations of mismanagement of funds, sexual harassment, violence," and the company’s "failure to act upon these allegations."
Schaffer said that this week the town became aware of response times that were so lengthy that other fire departments had to be called. According to police records supplied by the town, for a call on Wednesday for a woman having difficulty breathing, the North Amityville company was still trying to put together a response crew more than an hour after the call.
Schaffer said the town began hearing allegations from company members of financial impropriety, violence and sexual and other harassment involving the company’s five board members and other members in 2016. He said information was given to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office but allegations continued to come in and this past spring the office issued subpoenas to the town for information related to the company. A state audit is also taking place, he said.
This week tensions escalated between the board and members when the board suspended the chief for 90 days and two assistant chiefs walked off in protest, Schaffer said. The board also terminated 11 members, leaving only five active members to respond to calls, he said.
"We knew this had reached a breaking point and we had to take severe action in order to guarantee the health and safety of the residents," Schaffer said.
After violence and threats erupted during a December 2020 fire company election at the firehouse, the town brought in human resources management consultant John Coverdale to assess the allegations and issues.
Coverdale, the founder of Center for Workplace Solutions in Bayport, spent two months earlier this year conducting interviews with board members, officers and other members. He said he concluded "nearly every" accusation was true.
"I found a culture that is fraught with mismanagement and I found conflicts both unresolved or if resolved, that resolution was with a clear bias for in-group members even if they were clearly in the wrong," he said. "I also found unaddressed or willfully ignored harassment, sexual harassment and bullying."
Coverdale’s report concluded that one board member and two officers should be suspended or removed and one employee be terminated. However, he said no action was taken on those recommendations.
Schaffer said that because the fire company is a corporate entity, the town is limited at implementing reforms, especially "when faced with complete obstruction" by the fire company’s board in providing information. He said the town is open to contracting with the company again but that fire company must first install a receiver, an outside professional to manage the company’s finances and operations.