Candidates Ruminate on Past accomplishments and Future Challenges
While Port Jefferson Fire District Commissioner David Okst is running unopposed in the village, Terryville Fire District’s race is contested with two members vying for one seat. Commissioner Bernie Reynolds is planning to retire, which means volunteer member Daniel Gruosso is running against Captain James Guma of Company 1.
Commissioners are unpaid elected board members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. They determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.
All districts’ polls are open Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots. Residents of Port Jefferson Station or Terryville can cast their ballots at the firehouse located at 19 Jayne Blvd. in Port Jefferson Station from 2 to 9 p.m. Residents of Port Jefferson can cast their ballots at the firehouse located at 115 Maple Pl. from 3 to 9 p.m.
Here is a rundown of those seeking a term at their respective districts.
Terryville Fire District
Guma, a current fire captain of Fire Company 1, said he wants to use both his experience running his own business, the Port Jeff Station-based D James Marketing, and his firefighting experience to help run the district.
“I would be honored to further serve our fire community and district as commissioner,” he said.
Guma has been a longtime resident of the area, having graduated from the Comsewogue School District in 1981, and he currently owns a home in the district. He cites his years as a New York City police sergeant for his knowledge of leadership and his experience in his own business and in helping friends open Due Baci Restaurant in Port Jefferson village, saying he has knowledge of employee management, buying and selling equipment and sending requests for proposals. The district handles over 40 employees, he said.
“Running for this position takes having business strengths,” he said.
In addition, he said he is active in the local community as a civic and chamber member as well as a past president and current treasurer of the Red Knights Long Island Chapter NY-26 motorcycle club.
As a member of the department for over 30 years, he said he has been dedicated to the area not just as an officer but also as a member of the carnival committee and has served as department chairman.
He added that ensuring the safety of the community requires providing the necessary resources to the department, especially since other local departments such as the Setauket Fire Department have started to hire a few paid firefighters. However, he said he does not see Terryville needing to hire paid firefighters any time in the near future.
“It’s all volunteers and it should be that way,” he said.
Gruosso has lived in the district for 25 years, having bought the house from his parents who originally lived there. He has been a member of the Terryville Fire Department for four years, having taken a hiatus two decades ago when he had been with the department for two years before leaving to manage a hefty job schedule.
Now that he’s been with the department for a while, and with one of his two sons a member as well, he said he wants to offer up his time.
“I saw it as a good opportunity to give back,” he said.
He currently lives in the district and has seen two sons graduate from Comsewogue. He works as a diesel mechanic and has spent more than 17 years with the Operating Engineers Local 15 union. Overall, it’s a job he describes as “turning a wrench all my life.”
Gruosso is part of the antique fire truck committee, where he does all the mechanical work for both engines on his own time.
As commissioner, he said he would work to assure tax dollars are used wisely and be a voice for both the first responders and community members. He added that as commissioner he would have the opportunity to show the district mechanic some of what he knows, as he often goes out for schooling on mechanical matters.
“I’m looking to give back my time, and give up some of my knowledge,” he said.
He added he has seen no animosity between the candidates and both remain friends in the department.
Port Jefferson Fire District
Okst, a 30-year veteran of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, ran in 2014 for commissioner and has decided to run again this year. His seat is uncontested.
“I’m happy to do it,” Okst said. “I’ve enjoyed being able to give back to the community.”
The commissioner said he was a longtime member and once treasurer of the department. The district, he added, has gone through a bout of turnover, which has bred new blood on the board of fire commissioners.
In the past five years, he said the district has used Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant funds to purchase a new fire boat. The funds were secured in part by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). This is important for a small district such as Port Jeff, but while the district is reaching out feelers for additional grants, such funds have become more and more competitive and thus harder to come by.
In the near future, the district is planning on some sort of flood mitigation for the firehouse, which was inundated in September 2018 after flash floods buried the floor in nearly 4 feet of water.
“It was the worst flood members had ever seen,” he said.
Okst added they were looking at items such as flood doors in the building’s main floor doorways to help stop such an event from happening again.
In addition, the district has purchased a building for training purposes, where members can restructure the layout of a room with removable walls while fighting through fake smoke. However, state requirements mandate members train with a bailout harness system, and volunteers have had to travel to nearby departments to use their training equipment. The district is using budget funds to create a bailout system for its training room.
In addition, the district has resolved to use money from its reserve fund to install a new roof on the annex building, with a cost not to exceed $60,000. The roof, Okst said, is leaking as the building is over 20 years old. They hope to put that project out to bid in the near future.