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Setauket fire department to change coordinator jobs to paid firefighters

The Setauket firehouse on April 17, 2014.

The Setauket firehouse on April 17, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Setauket fire officials have proposed changing the job titles of four paid employees so that they can fight fires without violating civil service laws.

The department has four fire protection coordinators who perform tasks ranging from community relations to fire hydrant and commercial building inspections, district manager David Sterne said.

The coordinators have firefighting experience, but under state civil service law are not allowed to respond to calls, Sterne said. The district wants to change their titles to firefighter, he said.

“It’s the same job," he said. "We’re making sure that we’re in full compliance with what civil service law would want to see.”

The coordinators are paid $27 an hour and usually work no more than 20 hours a week, Sterne said. They would not receive a raise if the board of commissioners approves their new job titles, he said.

Paid firefighters would work at the firehouse during daytime, weekday hours, “when we are most busy with the least amount of people available,” Sterne said. They would work in shifts, with three firefighters on duty at any given time, Sterne said.

Garden City fire officials last month voted to eliminate 11 paid firefighter positions amid a contract dispute, saving the department an estimated $2 million a year. That department has 100 volunteers. That action leaves Long Beach as the only Long Island municipality with a paid firefighting force.

Steven Klein, president of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, said some Long Island departments use paid emergency medical technicians to supplement volunteers. Klein, a former Oceanside fire chief, said the firemen's association took no position on Setauket's proposal.

"With rising calls for both fire and EMS service, certain communities may feel the need to augment their volunteer staff with career firefighters," Klein said in a statement.

Sterne said Setauket started paying some EMS workers about 18 years ago because it is difficult for volunteers to leave their jobs and respond to calls during working hours. Setauket is planning to replicate that system to ensure firefighters are on call when they are needed, he said.

Setauket officials have no plans to eliminate volunteer firefighter positions, he said.

“We are in the same position on the fire side as we were with EMS 18 years ago,” Sterne said. “Putting four people [on the payroll] does not put anybody out as far as volunteers.”

The district will hold a public hearing on the change at 6 p.m. Thursday at fire department headquarters, 26 Hulse Rd., Setauket. The board plans to take a vote after the hearing, Sterne said.

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