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.