Local Fire Commissioners Run Unopposed for 2019 Election

Local Fire Commissioners Run Unopposed for 2019 Election

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The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

This year, fire commissioners from the Wading River through the Mount Sinai fire districts are running unopposed, but despite that fact, these small municipal entities have several issues and boons on their plates, and now is a good time to find out just what’s happening with your local fire personnel.

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 have set the date of Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots.

Here is a rundown of those seeking another term at their respective districts.

Wading River Fire Department headquarters. Photo from Google maps

Wading River

Commissioner Joe Marino has been serving through the year 2019, having been elected in 2018 to fill out the term of a commissioner who left before the end of his term. Marino is seeking another five-year term.

Marino did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents can vote Dec. 10 at the fire district headquarters located at 1503 North Country Road from 2 to 9 p.m.

Rocky Point

Kirk Johnson has been with the Rocky Point Fire Department since 2006 but had been involved in fire companies previous to that when he lived in West Babylon. By day he’s also a Suffolk County police officer and has worked in the 7th Precinct for 23 years.

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

Having been with the department for over 20 years, he originally ran to contribute his experience to upper management, and now he is running again to continue ongoing projects, such as construction of the new Station 2 firehouse, while trying to keep taxes down.

Johnson, a Shoreham resident, said ongoing work on the Station 2 firehouse is “rolling along very well,” and they are currently staying within their $7,250,000 budget. The foundation is currently in, and residents will soon see more of the skeleton of the building going up.

He added that the five commissioners are working on getting a New York State grant to help them replace breathing apparatus that have reached their life span. Johnson said they hope to receive news of that grant later in
December. 

The district has finalized another grant for a fire prevention training trailer, one with different rooms that can simulate a fire with fake smoke. The trailer, he said, can also be used to teach schoolchildren what to do in case of a fire in a classroom or at home.

Rocky Point residents can cast ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse on Hallock Landing Road from 3 to 9 p.m.

Sound Beach

James McLoughlin Sr. has been involved with the Sound Beach Fire Department since 1973, but it was only five years ago, after a spot opened up, that the veteran department head and former chief decided to throw his name in for commissioner. Five years since, he’s running again unopposed. 

“I had been toying with the idea for years, but most of our commissioners were doing a good job, so I saw no reason to run,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to run, I went for it.”

McLoughlin, a retired Suffolk County fire marshal, said he has “been involved with fire my entire life.” 

Sound Beach Fire District headquarters at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. Photo from Google Maps

Sound Beach residents recently passed a $2 million bond that department and district officials said was necessary for much needed repairs to the main firehouse. This includes replacing windows and adding sprinklers in the building. It also includes drainage repairs to the parking lots in the front and rear of the building, which will also even out the pavement. 

The commissioner said it has been several years since they asked residents to pass a bond, adding he and the other commissioners know the issue with taxes on Long Island.

A growing problem for Sound Beach and other departments, he said, is the diminishing number of volunteers as people work more jobs and for longer hours. State mandates and training requirements require more hours of training from prospective volunteers, which has only exacerbated the problem, especially for as small a district as Sound Beach. 

“The first EMT course I took in 1974 was about 70 hours,” McLoughlin said. “Now it takes over 120 hours for the course. It’s hard to find people to commit to that training.”

While he said the district is not currently looking for full-time fire personnel, the district has hired a full-time EMT ambulance driver. Other districts, like Setauket, have hired a few full-time firefighters to deal with declining volunteers. 

Sound Beach residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. between 2 and 9 p.m.

Miller Place

Commissioner Jeffrey Kinkaid has served three five-year terms as commissioner and is seeking a fourth term. However, he was with the department for many years, joining in 1989 after moving to the area in 1988. Overall, he said he has spent 40 years with fire departments both on the North Shore and in New Hyde Park.

“I went through the ranks, became chief for two years and in watching how the commissioners interacted with the chief, I thought I could help with that,” he said.

Miller Place Fire Department. File photo by Kevin Redding

Kinkaid said he has been able to interact with volunteers in the department, adding he has been out on more than half the calls that have come through to see what goes on. 

In the past 15 years, Kinkaid said the district has been busy renovating facilities and updating equipment, including upgrading the headquarters located at 12 Miller Place Road, updating equipment and the construction of a new Station 2 building on Miller Place-Yaphank Road, which was completed by a bond. Kinkaid said this has been done while at the same time trying to keep taxes low.

“I also live in the district,” he said. “I’m in touch with what’s going on, you’ve got to be.”

For the future, the commissioner said they plan to purchase a new rescue truck after decommissioning another one several years ago. The district went out for a New York State grant, but not getting it the district has decided to use budget funds to purchase another, albeit smaller truck at the tune of around $200,000 to $300,000. Kinkaid said they are also working on replacing volunteers’ breathing apparatus packs with budget funds, which could be another $350,000 bulk item. 

“My goal is to maintain equipment and keep the tax burden low,” he said. 

Miller Place residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the main firehouse, 12 Miller Place Road, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Mount Sinai

Peter Van Middelem is running again for his third term as commissioner of the Mount Sinai Fire District unopposed. He has been with the department since 1984 but has been in fire rescue for longer than that as a retired member of the New York City Fire Department. As a third-generation area resident, he also serves as trustee on the Mount Sinai board of education. He also volunteers as a coach with the girls varsity lacrosse team.

“We’re just focused on trying to serve the community and make sure our members are safe,” he said. “It’s about what we can do and what we can do without adding burden to the taxpayers.”

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Like many fire departments on Long Island, Van Middelem said Mount Sinai is suffering from a lack of volunteers, whether it’s from residents working multiple jobs, a lack of interest or young people leaving Long Island. The commissioner said his department in particular has been aging, and at age 53, he himself is one of the younger members in the department.

The district has looked at some ways to mitigate the lack of membership. One has been shared services with the Miller Place Fire Department, where they respond to calls in part with Mount Sinai and vice versa. 

Though he added they may look into additional sharedcall agreements with neighboring departments, another idea on the books is paying firefighters. Setauket recently hired a few paid members, and while Van Middelem said it has been discussed, the district is not currently looking for paid members.

“We have no idea how things will look in another five years,” he said. “A great portion of the district’s costs come from personnel — it’s something we’ll have to think about.”

Otherwise, the district, he said, is looking to get a handle of New York State insurance regulations, specifically covering cancer. It is a major turn from when he started in fire rescue several decades ago, he said, adding the district has been performing comprehensive medical screenings for members. 

“I’m very appreciative of serving,” he said. “I take this job very seriously.”

Mount Sinai residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road.