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Suffolk forges deal over running of fire academy

The Bellone administration has ended its battle to take over control of Suffolk's fire academy, forging a new three-year contract with the nonprofit group that has run the Yaphank complex for 70 years and trains more than 40,000 firefighters a year.

The Vocational Education & Extension Board, the nonprofit group created by state legislation that runs the academy, unanimously agreed to the new pact at a Monday night meeting, ending a controversy that began last summer. The administration also submitted a resolution to county lawmakers Tuesday to amend the budget, restoring $967,867 to fund the academy through the end the year.

Under the deal, there will be a guarantee of seven field training sessions for the term of the agreement and extra online and classroom training, said Bellone aides. The VEEB board also agreed to cut 5 percent or about $60,000 over three years from administrative costs and give the county increased oversight.

Bellone emphasized he only proposed changes at the request of fire officials who complained training had been cut in recent years and was scheduled to be reduced to five field training exercises this year. "It's a big win for both fire fighters and the public," he said.

Board officials say the agreement will preserve the academy as the education institution envisioned in the state, maintain high professional standards and avoid the possibility of political influence.

"The newspaper reports the heroic efforts of our firefighters but there's training behind that," said William Sanok, VEEB board chairman. "And that says something about our system." He added the discussions with the county have increased attention on the academy's problems and a better understanding of the value of their work.

The battle surfaced publicly last August when Bellone sought to cancel the board's contract and have the Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services directly run the fire academy. After protests from local fire departments, Bellone and lawmakers agreed to grant a six-month reprieve while talks went on.

Bellone conceded that proposed change had caused worry. "No one thought making changes would not come with some concerns," he said. "But as long as the conditions were met, I don't think anyone was committed to one way or the other."

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