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David Sterne

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If residents vote ‘yes,’ the Setauket Fire District will buy four new pumpers like the one above used by the Dix Hills Fire Department. Photo from Dix Hills Fire Department Facebook page

A special election will be held in the Setauket Fire District Sept. 10 to replace some outdated equipment.

Residents will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” for four Pierce Class A Pumpers from PNC Equipment Finance, LLC. On Aug. 1, the board of fire commissioners approved a referendum to hold the vote to buy the new vehicles.

David Sterne, fire district manager, said the fleet of trucks is aging — two pumpers are more than 20 years old, while another is 26 years old. Over the years, manufacturers have made safety changes when it comes to pumpers, he said. For example, modern fire truck cabs are built differently. More recently built pumpers have restraints for firefighters seated in the back, and there have been updates to secure equipment to meet the latest standards of the National Fire Protection Association. 

“These trucks are wonderful, but we’re looking to build very scaled-down efficient trucks,” Sterne said. “That they do the job. They don’t have all the bells and whistles.”

If the majority of residents vote “yes,” it will give the district permission to enter into a tax-free Municipal Lease-Purchase Agreement with PNC Equipment Finance. The total cost of the four vehicles will not exceed $2,557,314. While the proposition is to approve a five-year payoff, Sterne said the district hopes to pay it off in three years.

He said a municipal lease-purchase agreement allows the district to set up a structured payment for the agreed amount of time and budget a certain amount for every year. Such a lease is different from a car lease, in that once all payments are made, the district will own the pumpers outright. While the agreement incurs interest, the rate is low.

“The good news is that interest rates are incredibly low, and we are looking at a below 3 percent interest rate,” Sterne said.

Since this is not a bond vote, it will not raise taxes in the fire district. The commissioners are currently preparing the budget for next year, and they are under the cap, according to the district manager.

Members of the fire district have test driven similar pumpers, which are made in the U.S., as some local departments have bought the same truck, such as Dix Hills which owns two.

“We’re excited to have something that will be under warranty for quite a while and will be very reliable for us,” Sterne said.

When it comes to voting for special elections like the one taking place Sept. 10, Sterne said residents can find information in various places. In addition to the Setauket Fire District posting a legal notice in The Village Times Herald, residents can find announcements on electric signs outside the firehouses, the district’s Facebook page and website, www.setauketfd.com. Mailings are not done for special elections, according to Sterne, since they can cost thousands of dollars to do. Mailings are saved for bond votes since they have the potential to raise taxes. 

Residents can vote on the proposition to purchase four new pumpers Sept. 10 from 2 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook.

Setauket Fire District is seeking to add an additional full-time equivalent paid position to its ranks. File photo by Bob O’Rourk

The Setauket Fire District is looking to add an additional paid firefighter position to its ranks.

On March 14, the district will hold a public hearing to provide residents the opportunity to voice their opinions to fire commissioners about adding one full-time equivalent position — eight hours a day for five days a week — to the district.

Setauket boasts a little more than 100 active volunteer members, and Aug. 23 the commissioners approved three FTE positions, which translated into four per diem fire coordinators transitioning to paid firefighters.

David Sterne, district manager, said industry standard guidelines call for a fire pumper crew to consist of a minimum of four people. In August, after three FTEs were approved, the hope was for three paid firefighters and at least one volunteer to ride together every weekday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“While we’ve had fair amount of volunteer members doing duty crews with our career crew, it is not happening often enough to create the situation where we have a four-person crew the majority of the time during these hours.”

— David Sterne

“While we’ve had fair amount of volunteer members doing duty crews with our career crew, it is not happening often enough to create the situation where we have a four-person crew the majority of the time during these hours,” Sterne said.

The goal of the March 14 decision is to ensure they get a minimum crew during crucial hours.

“The board is not expanding the hours or days of coverage,” Sterne said. “This was all budgeted for and will not impact the budget in any adverse way.”

At the Aug. 23 meeting, approximately three dozen people filled the district headquarters meeting room and hallway. Among the concerned residents that spoke during the public hearing was former fire Commissioner Ed Forrester, who at the time said he felt there hadn’t been enough conversation about the title change.

“I really think it’s going to be the beginning of the death of the volunteer fire system,” Forrester said. “It’s going to spread like the wildfires out East and it’s going to Selden and Centereach and Coram, and everyone is going to say they need this. I actually feel it’s a want right now.”

At the meeting, Commissioner Jay Gardiner said the district has come a long way since the days when volunteers worked in the area at local mom and pop stores or as fishermen. He added due to the high cost of living in the area it has become prohibitive for many to establish careers near where they live, and work schedules make it impossible for them to volunteer.

He said the department also has seen a significant rise in the median age of its members. Many of the district’s senior members no longer qualify as interior firefighters due to their advancing age. This becomes an issue during daytime hours.

Sterne said the commissioners have been actively involved with the department in helping to recruit more volunteers. Another class of recruits is due to be sworn-in.

“The goal of daytime, weekday augmentation is to ensure that the community receives our service quickly from highly trained personnel,” Sterne said. “Whether or not those people receive a paycheck is irrelevant to the person receiving the help. We are very lucky to have the dedicated volunteers we have to provide the service that they provide.”

Sterne added the majority of volunteer members provide overnight crews.

“[They] spend many a sleepless night responding to alarms, only to have to go to their ‘paid’ job the next day,” he said. “It is with a strong sense of pride that these members serve their community, and it is with the same pride that the board looks to help them and provide them with assistance in doing so during the difficult times.”

The public hearing will be held at the Setauket Fire District administration building located at 26 Hulse Road in Setauket, March 14 at 6:30 p.m.