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Billy Williams

Setauket Fire Department Headquarters. File photo.
Billy Williams will be the next Setauket Fire Comissioner. Photo provided by Billy Williams

Changes are coming to the Setauket Fire District board.

On Dec. 10, insurance agent and volunteer firefighter Billy Williams unseated incumbent Kevin Yoos for the commissioner seat, 479-219.

During his campaign, Williams addressed financial matters and the need to keep the department volunteer based. The newly elected fire commissioner and others have said morale in the department has dipped after last year’s decision to change paid fire coordinators to paid firefighter positions. Last year the district approved three salaried firefighters, along with one more this year.

Williams said it felt all the hard work of campaigning was worth it when he saw the voter turnout. Involved in the Kiwanis Club and the local chamber of commerce, he added he felt many voted who didn’t vote in the past.

He said working on the morale in the department is at the forefront of his mind.

“It had a big bump yesterday,” he said. “I got a 150 to 200 texts from department members and other people.”

Williams said once he takes his seat, he’ll look at everything, especially when it comes to financial matters, and “do what’s right by the taxpayer.”

The new commissioner will take his seat Jan. 1, 2020, and will serve a five-year term.

 

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Setauket Fire Department Headquarters. File photo.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Setauket Fire District residents will choose between two candidates for a five-year term as fire commissioner, incumbent Kevin Yoos and challenger Billy Williams.

The race began with four candidates, but two petitions from volunteer firefighters Tom Gulbransen and Fred Leute were disqualified by the district. Gulbransen initially planned to continue to run as a write-in candidate but later said he has pulled out of the race entirely.

In the Setauket Fire District, the addition of three paid firefighters in 2018 has weighed heavily on many volunteers’ minds, and both candidates are looking to work to boost morale while recruiting and retaining volunteers.

Meet the candidates

Kevin Yoos

Incumbent Kevin Yoos

Fire commissioner Kevin Yoos, 49, has served one partial and one full-term and has been a volunteer firefighter for the Setauket Fire Department for 31 years.

The lifelong Three Village resident and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters in college. He recently retired after 24 years as a lieutenant of Squad Company 270 with the New York City Fire Department, which he joined after a short stint with the New York Police Department. His firehouse in South Queens responds to some 300 fires a year. He is a risk control consultant for fire department insurance and teaches at the Suffolk County Fire Academy of Yaphank as well as the New York State Academy of Fire Science.

He became involved in the Setauket Fire Department 31 years ago after watching his father, who joined in 1973 and was a former commissioner, respond to emergency calls. Yoos was 14 when he joined the junior fire company, and in 1988, at the age of 18, he joined as a full member. He has served as lieutenant captain, assistant chief and chief of department twice.

He said with a lot on his plate, he came close to not running again, but when he decided to retire, he had a conversation with his wife who agreed that with him now having more free time on his hands, he should run again.

“It’s in my blood,” he said. “It’s never going to go away.”

Challenger Billy Williams

Billy Williams

Billy Williams, 52, is a State Farm Agent in Setauket. He and his wife Denise have four children — three in college and one in ninth grade. Williams moved to Stony Brook in 1998.

Watching his grandfather and uncles in the Southold department, he said he always wanted to be just like them. Having grown up in Syosset, he applied to FDNY but it took a few years before he was accepted, and by that time he was married in Florida with a business and was unable to join. When he moved back to New York, his office was in White Plains for more than 10 years, and when he moved his office to Setauket, closer to home, the first thing he did was sign up to volunteer.

A six-year volunteer with the department, Williams said he wants to get spending under control and manage the assets they have as well as raise morale while working on recruitment and retention. He added that being a fireman has nothing to do with being a fire commissioner, who helps to run the business side of things.

“The chiefs and the department take care of the day-to-day operations of putting out the fires and getting the ambulance,” Williams said. “The commissioners do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

Finances

Williams said there is a need for leadership to run the business end and bring the departments and the district back together, adding he feels with running a business since 1994 and managing employees and balancing budgets, he would be an asset to the district. In addition to his work in the insurance industry, he is the president of the Three Village Kiwanis Club and on the board of the local chamber of commerce. He said he also helped to bring back annual events, including the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade which was on hiatus for a year.

“I just think I know what the community needs and what the department needs,” he said. “So, I’m the guy.”

Williams said the district spent $4.8 million net in 2015 and $8.1 million net in 2019 and there will be a $300,000 increase in 2020. He said with construction on the Main Street firehouse and the purchase of new fire trucks and brand new radios he doesn’t know how commissioners can say it will not affect residents.

“I don’t know what they’re doing, but you don’t increase your spending by about 70  percent and say that taxes are going to stay the same and that there’s going to be no cost,” Williams said.

Yoos said there was an increase in taxes a few years back after residents approved the bond for the new headquarters building on Main Street. In addition, new portable radios, radio infrastructure, air packs, stretchers for the ambulances, added law-mandated cancer insurance for the volunteers and other items were purchased.

“The equipment replaced was costing a lot to try to maintain and becoming less reliable and unsafe for members to operate,” Yoos said.

He added that the public referendum vote for a municipal lease/purchase agreement for new fire trucks will be supplemented by funds that were put in the reserve account.

“Purchasing these vehicles in bulk in this manner is saving the community approximately $400,000,” he said. “Since the money is already allocated for the reserve account for vehicles the payments for the new engines will come out of this line item. So there will be no increase to taxes for the purchase.”

When it comes to fire services, Yoos said he and other commissioners do a lot of reading and research when it comes to trends and statistics. And at times, revisit decisions.

“As we continue to pay off the bond, we will continually revisit the budget requirements, and it is very likely we will be able to reduce taxes while maintaining the same level of service,” Yoos said.

Paid firefighters

Last year the Setauket Fire District changed paid fire coordinator positions into paid firefighters, a move that many, including Williams, said has hurt the morale in the departments.

He said while he believes the hybrid that exists right now is a good mix, he doesn’t want to see it become all paid, which he believes the current leadership wants, because he said he feels there’s no need for it with Setauket responding to more EMT calls than fires.

“We’re spending money that we don’t need to spend, in my opinion,” he said.

Yoos said it’s not true that the board wants a paid department.

“If we can handle this 100 percent as volunteers, we’re all in,” Yoos said. “The problem is our volunteers are dwindling, and we need to rebuild that somehow.”

Yoos said he hopes to make a better environment for the volunteers but going forward with the few paid firefighters was something they had to do at the time. The number of volunteers has dwindled while the amount of alarms continue to increase, he said. When he started in 1988, there were 180 members with a waiting list for those who wanted to be volunteers, and most members were firefighters with only a few members as EMTs. Today there are 59 interior firefighters, out of 109 active members, that can go inside a structure and put a fire out, whereas others can only assist outside.

“I love the volunteer fire service,” Yoos said. “We want to promote it more. We want more volunteers, but everybody is busy.”

He said the addition of paid firefighters was around $20 to $30 a year per household.

Williams said the district needs to put in some work to boost morale.

“Once they know that we’re not fast forwarding to becoming a fully paid department is one way,” he said, adding that more recruitment and retention efforts would help.

The election for one fire commissioner for a five-year term in the Setauket Fire District will take place Tuesday, Dec. 10, between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. Residents can vote at the 394 Nicolls Road firehouse.

From left, Billy Williams, co-president of Three Village Kiwanis; Dr. Laura E. Hogan, chief of pediatric hematology and oncology; Denise Williams, treasurer; and Christine Intrabartola, co-president of Three Village Kiwanis Photo from Billy Williams

On Nov. 15, the Three Village Kiwanis Club donated a check in the amount of $5,000 to Stony Brook University Hospital for its work in the Pediatric Oncology unit to help children and their families in need during this trying time of the holiday season.

If you are interested in becoming part of the Kiwanis Club here locally please contact Billy Williams at 631-828-9048 to find out how you can help with supporting those in need in our community. They meet at Mario’s Restaurant, 212 Main St., Setauket on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m.

By Rita J. Egan

Forget the elves! This year Santa will get a little help from members of the Culper Spy Ring when the Three Village Holiday Electric Light Parade makes its way through the streets of East Setauket on Dec. 10.

The grand marshals of this year’s parade will be the patriots that made up George Washington’s Long Island spy ring — portrayed by residents including Three Village Historical Society Historian Beverly C. Tyler as Abraham Woodhull. The grand marshals will lead the annual local favorite featuring floats and vehicles adorned with electric lights mixing the area’s historic roots with modern merriment.

Insurance agent Billy Williams took over the reigns of the parade after its cancellation in 2015. As a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, he heard the committee ran into some glitches that year, and while it was too late to do anything at the time, he and others joined forces to light the way for the procession in 2016.

In addition to Williams, the parade committee includes Cheryl Davey, Andrew Galambos, Michael Owen, Denise Williams, Sharon Philbrick, Andrea Allen, Scott Sanders, Julie Watterson, Carmine Inserra, Dawn Viola and Laura Mastriano.

Above, a scene from a previous Electric Light Parade

“We picked up the pieces and put the parade back together,” Williams said, adding that he was happy when the group was able to organize the parade again this year, and that Davey and Owen, who both worked on the event in the past, offered to continue to help. Williams and other committee members had fond memories of bringing their children to the parade every year, and he participated in it as a volunteer firefighter. “It’s good for the community; it’s good for everybody. So we said let’s try to organize it and give it another go, and that’s what we did.”

Davey, who has been coordinating the parade for approximately seven years, said she was thrilled when it got a reboot in 2016. “I was hoping that if it went away for a year, maybe people would miss it and realize how special an event it is for the entire community,” she said. “I was hoping that there would be a public outcry — “bring back the parade” — and there was. And then, everybody stepped forward and said they could help. We put together a wonderful committee of amazing people who have great ideas and great networking contacts, and they rolled up their sleeves and went right to work.”

Galambos, who has attended the parade for more than a decade, said he was also delighted to see it revived last year. He said the parade is an opportunity for residents to experience something special for the holidays right in their neighborhood and for local groups and businesses to work together, adding “The parade really is a collaboration of the entire town, and all the various organizations.”

Galambos said he is looking forward to this year’s grand marshals and thinks it’s a wonderful way to educate residents, especially young ones, about the local history, adding “This parade is something that is very special because it is a celebration that is uniquely us.”

Williams and Galambos said attendees can look forward to seeing floats from the Three Village Central School District and the participation of Scout troops and various businesses from the area, including Shine Dance Studios. Both said cheerleaders, pep squad members, athletes and Wolfie from Stony Brook University will also be marching, and the parade will feature the Family Residences and Essential Enterprises Players Drum Corps, which is composed of musicians with special needs.

Participants will begin lining up at 3:30 p.m. at the Village Green by Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. For Davey, this is her favorite part of the entire event. “When they all start showing up with their floats, you’re just overwhelmed with Christmas spirit,” Davey said.

The Three Village Kiwanis Club will present the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade Dec. 10 starting at 5 p.m. The procession heads south on Main Street, turning left on Route 25A and ends at the Kiwanis Park next to Se-Port Deli. After the parade, Santa will be available to hear children’s wishes in the park’s gazebo. For more information, visit www.3vholidayparade.com.

All file photos by Greg Catalano