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Incumbent, 2 challengers in race for seat on St. James Fire District board

A St. James Fire District election on Tuesday

A St. James Fire District election on Tuesday will pit Ryan Davis, left, the department chief, against incumbent William Kearney, the district board's chairman, and Kit Gabrielsen, a firefighter. Credit: Composite: Ryan Davis; William Kearney; Newsday / John Paraskevas

A St. James Fire District election on Tuesday will pit incumbent William Kearney, the district board’s chairman, against challengers Kit Gabrielsen, a firefighter, and Ryan Davis, the department chief.

District voters this fall approved a $2.8 million budget, and commissioners negotiated a deal with Head of the Harbor trustees that could bring the village into the district.

The winner of the election will serve a five-year term. Once he is seated, the five-member board will select its next chairman.

Kearney, 74, is a retired project manager for financial institutions and a 35-year St. James volunteer firefighter now serving as the department chaplain, in addition to his district position.

Kearney helped negotiate the Head of the Harbor deal, which still needs state and town approvals. It would provide additional tax revenue he has said could be used to ease taxes on the district overall or fund maintenance and equipment upgrades.

Commissioners are working on a plan to replace several big-ticket items like an ambulance and two aging fire trucks, making his private-sector experience with budgets and construction valuable, he said.

Kearney said he would not revive a 2018 proposal to sell the Route 25A firehouse, though he supported it at the time.

“The decision was made by the citizens” of the district, and department officers, not commissioners, are responsible for how that firehouse will be used, he said.

Gabrielsen, 59, a retired Suffolk County police sergeant who served one term as a fire commissioner in the early 2000s, said he was the only candidate who had always supported keeping the main firehouse on Route 25A open.

“My two opponents have always maintained they wanted to get rid of the main house and build a new facility that may or may not be needed,” he said.

Gabrielsen said his police career and roughly 40 years as a first responder had familiarized him with other fire departments in the area and with the emergency medical services system. That experience is important, he said, because emergency and ambulance calls, not fires, now account for most of the department’s work.

“We are going to keep up with technology and training,” Gabrielsen said.

Chief Ryan Davis, 38, is a 20-year department volunteer and a FDNY firefighter.

“I want to bring trust back into our fire district,” he said, referring to sometimes bitter referendums in 2013 and 2017 that would have bonded money for firehouse improvements and a 2018 referendum, which would have permitted the district’s sale of the Route 25A firehouse to the department. All of the referendums failed. “Cooperation and communication are essential for making everything work in a fire service,” he said.

He favors a two-firehouse district but said both firehouses needed repairs and an aging vehicle fleet would soon need replacement. “Everything’s getting old all at once,” he said.

Davis would push for a plan to stagger replacement ambulances every four years and fire trucks every seven, he said. He also would push for better recruitment and retention to grow department ranks from about 100 to 125 firefighters, he said.

Election info

Voting is from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Most district residents vote at St. James Fire Department Station 2 at 221 Jefferson Ave. Residents from Election District 79 vote at the Fairfield at St. James clubhouse, 1 Fairfield Drive.

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