Former Commissioner and Newcomer Vie for Gardiner’s Seat in Setauket Fire District

Former Commissioner and Newcomer Vie for Gardiner’s Seat in Setauket Fire District

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Current fire commissioner and chairman of the board is not running for reelection in 2002. File photo by Phil Corso

With Setauket fire commissioner and chairman of the board Jay Gardiner not seeking reelection this year, two new candidates are set to run for his seat Dec. 8.

Sue Meyers

Voters will have the opportunity to choose between Setauket resident Jim Griffin and 25-year volunteer Sue Meyers. Griffin was a volunteer with the department for about a year, he said, but due to a change in the medical requirements, he was no longer able to fulfill the conditions and stepped down. The Navy veteran and retired police officer said he has been involved with other fire and rescue services for more than 30 years in departments such as Stony Brook and Jericho.

Meyers was the first woman to hold a commissioner’s seat in the district from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2009. She would have continued to seek the position, she said, but her son, who passed away four years ago, had medical issues she had to attend to.

She said, if elected, one of her goals is to keep the balance between volunteers and paid personnel. In August 2018 the board of commissioners voted unanimously for the first time in favor of changing the titles of four paid fire protection coordinators to firefighters. She said right now there is a good balance between volunteers and paid employees and believes that should be maintained.

“I think the balance is important to preserve the volunteers who put their hearts and souls into this community,” she said.

She said she also wants to provide more opportunities for those who are older and may not be able to operate apparatus or respond to calls anymore. She said there has been a mentorship program that has worked out well, and senior members can bring a lot to the table as far as experience and the department history they provide.

“I would like to find a place for those gentlemen and ladies where even if they can’t have an active role … they can still contribute,” she said. 

A nurse practitioner, she is a single mom who has raised five grown children. She said her experience in the fire department as well as her role as a mother has helped sharpen her budgeting skills. She has talked to the district about a five-year plan, and she feels that with the district’s recent purchases of new apparatus and the renovated building on Main Street, the district can now watch its budget better and identify any inefficiencies.

She is also hoping to initiate an EMT recruitment program that requires three years of volunteer service in exchange for the class, certification and training costs the fire department provides. The requirement would prevent people from receiving the training and then leaving the department.

Meyers said that many women have served as crew chiefs and lieutenants in the department but haven’t gone as far as commissioner. She wants to show other women coming into the department that it’s an option for them.

“I think that needs to change,” she said. “We have just as much to offer.”

Jim Griffin

Griffin said he has morale, recruitment and retention at the forefront of his mind. The retired police officer agrees with Meyers that the current hybrid system, with paid employees and volunteers, is working but he doesn’t want to see it expanded right now.

“I don’t want to expand anything further without attempting the reorganization of the membership,” he said.

Due to his experience of not being able to serve due to changed medical requirements, he would like to see the district go back to volunteers using their own doctors instead of Northwell Health, which he described as “factory-type checking.” Griffin did not comment
on what his medical condition was.

“It should be about the individual,” he said.

Griffin said he also feels there is a disconnect between the district and department stemming from the commissioners’ office being located in a separate building on Hulse Road the last few years instead of the administration members working out of a firehouse with the membership.

He said the volunteer process can be shortened, as those who have been certified through other departments outside of Setauket, still need to start the certification process again in Setauket, a process he considers is unnecessary for experienced volunteers. With the certification classes not beginning until there are enough interested, he said it can take months for a volunteer to be ready to serve. For example, when he was interested in joining, it took seven months before he was called about training. He said the delay of getting in and then taking probation classes “is causing a major disruption in the membership.”

He added he would look to allow Stony Brook University students to join the department, even though he has been told that after a few years they move on.

“My answer is some of them are already qualified EMTs, paramedics, and they’re going to medical school,” he said.

If the district works with SBU students, he said he feels other student volunteers would take the place of those who have left. He added many students remain in the area for their residencies and could possibly continue with the department.

He is also looking to expand on fire prevention education. While many who are interested in volunteering may not be able to fight interior fires, he said he feels many can contribute in other areas. For example, electricians and teachers can help with fire prevention education. He would also like to work with community stores and have a sign-up program for residents where firefighters can go to their homes and replace batteries in smoke alarms for those who can’t climb ladders and perform similar fire prevention tasks. He added that firefighters can see potential problems such as hoarding and establish an outreach program and help.

“If we never have a fire in Setauket again, I’m OK with that,” he said. “We get the prevention out there, and it kind of serves two purposes.”

Residents of the Setauket Fire District can vote Dec. 8 from 2 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook. The fire commissioner term is for five years commencing Jan. 1, 2021.

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