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Rocky Point Fire District

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The Wading River Fire Department building on North Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local fire departments are gearing up for their annual commissioner elections, and most districts in the local area, save Wading River, are looking at uncontested races.

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. The commissioners determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

TBR News Media reached out to the local fire departments to talk to the commissioner candidates. Candidates talked about how COVID-19 has caused budgetary concerns, and along with current ongoing projects, how they try to recruit new members during a time of a pandemic.

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai Fire District

The Mount Sinai Fire District is holding an election Dec. 8 for a five-year commissioner seat. Incumbent Joseph Tacopina is running uncontested for a seat he’s held since 2002.

Tacopina said in a phone interview he has been with the Mount Sinai Fire Department for 35 years. Since he’s been commissioner, he said the board has worked to keep the percentage yearly tax increase below the New York State tax cap. Still, the district’s five-year plan does not include any big-ticket items, he said, and instead focuses on things like replacing the boiler in the main firehouse and other capital improvements.

“We’ve been streamlining processes through the department, but there are budgetary constraints based on COVID, so some of the projects we were looking to do are minimal in scope,” he said.

The pandemic has brought forth a host of new costs to the district, things that they previously wouldn’t have had to pay for. Tacopina said there were costs associated with sanitizing the firehouse and firefighter equipment, and they have had to spend much more on cleaning supplies and other PPE. At certain points, the district had to close the building to nonessential service for small time periods because of positive infections among volunteers or staff. It has also made recruitment for volunteer-starved departments like Mount Sinai that much harder.

“All these additional costs are not budgeted — we have to spend on sanitizing equipment so we can have our members respond without infecting everybody,” he said.

The election is set for Dec. 8  at the main firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road from 6 to 9 p.m. The district is also asking residents to vote on a proposition that would make it so an active member can become a participant of the service award program at age 17, instead of 18. The annual cost of the program would increase from $265,200, or $2,160 per participant, to $288,400, or $2,060 per participant.

Tacopina said the district is attempting to allow younger people in their youth programs to become active members sooner to allow them earlier access to firefighter training. Currently young members must turn 18 before joining such training, which usually only allows them a small period for which to train and then work on trucks. Doing this would allow firefighter training for the summer before, so once they turn 18 they’re already ready to become full-fledged members.

“This way before they go to college, we have them for that summer as well,” the commissioner said.

Miller Place Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Miller Place Fire District

Miller Place has one commissioner term up for election. Incumbent commissioner Larry Fischer is seeking another five-year term starting Jan. 1 next year. 

Fischer, a 31-year member of the department, has served five terms on the board of fire commissioners. It’s been a long road, though the ongoing pandemic has led to a host of new challenges. 

He said the department has been mostly shut down for all non-call and emergency response activities. The department has had to greatly limit the number of training sessions, which along with limitations at fire school, has limited the availability of new recruits to get the training they need.

Still, the important thing, Fischer said, is that they’re still answering calls, which even before the pandemic, close to 70% of calls were for EMS. Like other districts, the pandemic has put an added cost on the district from having to purchase PPE and sanitizing equipment. Just this past week, the department hosted both rapid and the three-day COVID-19 tests for department members.

“We want to make sure our members are safe, especially our EMTs” he said. “I salute the EMTs who are really on the front lines of this.” 

Within the past year or so, the district updated their 20-year-old phone system. Though they had applied for a grant in 2019, the department ended up having to pay out of pocket, and that equipment was finally delivered at the beginning of this year.

Though the commissioner is hope for a return to something resembling normal next spring and summer following the release of a vaccine, that will not be the end to issues in the area. He shared his concern for the ongoing opioid crisis, which data has shown has only been accentuated because of the pandemic. He hopes that they can be allowed to go back in schools sometime in the near future to provide some training and awareness for students related to opioids.

The election is held at the main firehouse at 12 Miller Place Road Dec. 8 from 4 to 9 p.m.

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

Sound Beach Fire District

The Sound Beach Fire District is hosting its election for a five-year commissioner seat. Incumbent Richard McKay is running for his seat unopposed.

McKay was appointed three years ago to finish the term of a previous commissioner who vacated his position. With several decades of experience as both a firefighter and EMT, he previously served as a commissioner for another department and said he originally did not expect to be elected again.

“I told them I’ll try it out for the year, but we did really well — all the commissioners play nicely in the sandbox — so now I’m running for a full term,” he said.

He said the main purpose of the district and commissioners is to maintain service without putting the onus on taxpayers. Last year Sound Beach residents voted to approve a $2.9 million bond to complete repairs and work at the main firehouse that hasn’t seen work in years. Most of the work is repairs and maintenance, McKay said. Repairs and fixes include a makeover of the parking lot, new epoxy floor finishing in the ambulance bays and apparatus room, sprinkler and fire alarm system replacements and window replacements on both floors. 

“The floors inside the firehouse are crumbling and in one part of the building a wall has a crack in it,” he said. “Almost every window leaks.” 

While the district has made budgets that have gone under the state tax cap for the past several years, this is the first time they will pierce the tax cap due to paying off the bond.

The other big issue the district faces is a lack of volunteers, McKay said. It’s especially hard nowadays to get people to dedicate the necessary amount of time for both training and to be on call.

The election is set for Dec. 8 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. from 2 to 9 p.m.

The Rocky Point Fire Department building in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rocky Point Fire District

Rocky Point is hosting its election Dec. 8 to elect a commissioner to a five-year term. Incumbent commissioner John Buchner is running unopposed.

Buchner did not respond to a request for an interview by press time.

The election is set for Dec. 8 at the district building at the Shoreham firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A, between 3 and 9 p.m.

The contested fire commissioner race in Wading River is set for a vote Dec. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

Wading River Fire District

Wading River remains one of the few contested elections for commissioner this year. The seat is for a five-year term starting Jan. 1, 2021, and ending Dec. 31, 2025. 

Incumbent commissioner of 15 years Jim Meier is facing off against previous commissioner Tim Deveny.

Meier, a third-generation firefighter and 41-year member of the department, said he is running again to continue the work they are doing in upgrading equipment and boost declining membership. He also boasted there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the department, meaning they have maintained a continuity of service throughout the pandemic.

“It’s all about the safety and the financial end,” he said. “We have a board that’s working together well right now.”

He said the district has purchased two ambulances and a new ladder truck in the last two years using capital funds without having to rely on other financial institutions. He also boasted about other grants the district has received in the past several years, including a $200,000 grant for radio systems in 2015. 

“With all that saving we can purchase new rigs to keep us going,” he said.

The station 2 firehouse on Hulse Landing Road has been closed for nearly two years now, saying the chief of department originally closed it for mold issues, among other building problems, and they “haven’t been able to reopen it.” That building is now being used for storage, save for a single emergency vehicle, while apparatus and equipment that was housed there has been moved to the main firehouse along North Country Road. Members that used to report to the second firehouse now respond to the main one.

The biggest issue, Meier said, is a lack of enough volunteers to man that station. He said despite additional travel time for some members to get to the station, the move has actually improved response time, as with a single alarm, instead of people responding to two separate houses, more people are available right next to the necessary equipment.

“Most people from that end [of Wading River] were getting older or moving out,” Meier said. “As bad as it is to have the station closed, it’s helped our response time.”

Deveny, a 23-year member and past commissioner from 2004 to 2014, said he is running again because of the issue with the station 2 firehouse, which he said was a major disruption in service to the eastern portion of the Wading River hamlet.

“Public safety — that’s what it’s all about,” Deveny said. “In this day and age when EMS calls are escalating, you take away from the people on the east end?”

He disagreed with the current board saying there are not enough volunteers to staff the station 2 building, saying that as he has worked there, they had 16 people who responded there and were “locked out” in February of last year. He said problems such as the mold issue have already been rectified, and some volunteers taking the trek to the main firehouse has meant a drive time of 10 minutes or more. He added people on his side of town “still don’t know they closed that station down.”

“I’m so angry I can eat glass,” he said. “You can’t put a price on human life.”

The candidate also criticized the district for piercing the state tax cap two years in a row, saying the district needs to work on its financial situation. He said the department did not require a ladder truck when other nearby departments could provide such equipment in a pinch, adding there were no large houses in Wading River that would require that apparatus.

The election is set for the main firehouse located at 1503 N. Country Road, Dec. 8 between 2 and 9 p.m.

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Rocky Point Fire District residents file into the district offices in Shoreham to cast their votes. Photo by Kyle Barr

RPFD is going ahead with a new $1 million bond after a community vote Tuesday, Oct. 13, with a narrow margin of just 18 votes. 

The community in the Rocky Point Fire District, which covers the Rocky Point and Shoreham hamlets, voted 271 to 253 on new funds to finish the Station 2 firehouse construction project on King Road.

Officials have previously said that because of a delayed start, expanding construction costs and the pandemic they do not have the funds to complete the original $7.25 million project. District officials cited the projects late start, as well as increased costs due to the ongoing pandemic for why they needed these new funds. 

“We are all very pleased that a majority of our residents came out and supported the project,” David Brewer, vice chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said in a statement. “We are equally pleased that some of the misinformation and inaccuracies posted on some social media sites didn’t adversely affect the outcome of the vote. From the beginning, the board of fire commissioners has been committed to providing our members and residents with a safe and modern firehouse. Our goal remains unchanged and that is to complete this building despite many financial setbacks and delays, and we thank all of our supporters.”

Social distancing and mask wearing rules were enforced, though the district did not allow people to cast absentee ballots, citing the extra time it would take to count those ballots as well.

In a Zoom call last week relating to this vote, officials said the new bond will cost residents an average of $18 more per year on their fire district taxes, though they could not relate how many years it may take to pay off the new bond.

Officials expect the project to be finished around the end of the year.

More Details on the Station 2 Firehouse Project

The district originally asked the community to support a $8.5 million bond in 2017, where $7.25 million would go to the construction of the new firehouse. Fire District Chairman Anthony Gallino said they originally included about 7% contingency of over $500,000. This new $1 million bond is looking at a 25% contingency of about $250,000. Gallino added that any unused funds of the new bond will be put to paying down the bond.

“We realized that [the original contingency] was not enough to cover obstacles, so we put a little more in there for this building,” Gallino said. 

On Saturday, Oct. 10, district officials made a full breakdown of the project budget available. Documents show the district lacked $752,310 to complete the firehouse. That number is out of a remaining $1.5 million on a firehouse that is 75% complete. The district still has $500,000 in contingency bond funds and $293,814 left in money taken from the general fund.

There were issues on the project from the start, officials said during the call. The project manager they originally hired put out bids which were routinely around $1 million over budget. In August 2018, the district terminated its contract with its original construction manager. In February 2019, they hired a new project manager, Devin Kulka, the CEO of Hauppauge-based Kulka Group, and were able to get started with asbestos abatement in May 2019 and demolition followed in June. Materials and labor costs, especially with New York’s prevailing wage, also increased from when the bond vote was passed. The pandemic made things even more complicated. 

Documents show there were items that came in way over what they were originally budgeted for several years ago, resulting in the $752,310 shortfall. HVAC, for example, was slated for $600,000, but is now awarded at $925,000. While a few items came slightly under budget, those overages make up the total of the project’s $1.5 million excess.

Kulka said during the Zoom call there was one contractor company that went under during construction due to COVID-19. He confirmed a surety company would be cutting a check for the cost between the work the contractor already did and what it wasn’t able to complete.

Gallino said materials costs increased by 10%. Some community members questioned what the cost could be on what has already been constructed, which now resembles a cinder block exterior, but officials said the price of prevailing wages kept costs high.

Currently the station 2 company is housed in the old Thurber Lumber property on King Road, which is owned by local developer Mark Baisch. The developer allowed the company into the property free of charge but plans to turn that property into a slate of 55-and-older rental pieces and would need the fire company to be out by the end of the year.

This article was updated Oct. 15 to include extra information and a quote from the fire district.

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Rocky Point residents took to the polls in 2017 to vote on propositions to demo the old and rebuild a new North Beach Company 2 firehouse, and purchase a new fire truck. A new bond is asking an extra $1 million to go all the way. File photo by Kevin Redding

*This article was updated to include a link to the firehouse projects budget breakdown.

As the Rocky Point Fire District settles in for a $1 million community bond vote Tuesday, some residents still have questions about the process and what their tax dollars will go if they vote “yes.”

The district has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, Oct. 13, for a $1 million bond to help complete the station 2 firehouse construction. Officials have previously said that because of a delayed start, expanding construction costs and the pandemic they do not have the funds to complete the original $7.25 million project. 

The new firehouse along King Road in Rocky Point has been in construction since May of last year, but fire district officials said they need more funds in order to fully complete the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a Zoom conference call hosted by district officials Wednesday, Oct. 7, fire district commissioners, the project and manager and attorneys for the district answered the community’s questions.

Several asked if there would be absentee ballots for those unable to vote in-person out of concern for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Fire District Chairman Anthony Gallino said having to count absentee ballots would result in a “delay in the process,” when construction needs to be completed by the end of the year. Officials claimed that New York State law under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive orders are unclear regarding special district votes. 

Fire District Attorney William Glass did not return a call for clarification before press time. Officials also said that if they waited for election day Nov. 3, the district would not receive funds until February next year.

The district originally asked the community to support a $8.5 million bond in 2017, where $7.25 million would go to the construction of the new firehouse. Gallino said they originally included about 7% contingency of over $500,000. This new $1 million bond is looking at a 25% contingency of about $250,000. Gallino added that any unused funds of the new bond will be put to paying down the bond.

“We realized that [original contingency] was not enough to cover obstacles so we put a little more in there for this building,” Gallino said. 

On Saturday, Oct, 10, district officials made a full breakdown of the project budget available. Documents show the district lacks $752,310 to complete the firehouse. That number is out of a remaining $1.5 million on a firehouse that is 75% complete. The district still has $500,000 in contingency bond funds and $293,814 left in money taken from the general fund.

Click here to see the budget breakdown, which includes the remaining amount of money left from the districts last bond.

There were issues on the project from the start, officials said during the call. The project manager they originally hired put out bids which were routinely around $1 million over budget. In Aug. of 2018 the district terminated its contract with its original construction manager. In February, 2019 they hired a new project manager, Devin Kulka, the CEO of Hauppauge-based Kulka Group, and were able to get started with asbestos abatement in May, 2019 and demolition followed in June. Materials and labor costs, especially with New York prevailing wage, also increased from when the bond vote was passed. The pandemic made things even more complicated. 

Documents show there were items that came in way over what they were originally budgeted for several years ago, resulting in the $752,310 shortfall. HVAC, for example, was slated for $600,000, but is now awarded at a $925,000. While a few items came slightly under budget, those overages make up the total of the $1.5 million the project is over by.

Kulka said during the Zoom call there was one contractor company that went under during construction due to COVID-19. He confirmed a surety company would be cutting a check for the cost between the work the contractor already did and what it wasn’t able to complete.

Gallino said materials costs increased by 10%. Some community members questioned what the cost could be on what has already been constructed, which now resembles a cinder block exterior, but officials said the price of prevailing wage kept costs high.

District officials said the increase of the yearly fire district tax bill will increase about $18 or $19 for the average house within the district. The idea of forking over more money during a time of austerity due to the pandemic might not be appetizing, but Gallino said this was the only means to construct the firehouse. Currently the station 2 company is housed in the old Thurber Lumber property on King Road, which is owned by local developer Mark Baisch. The developer allowed the company into the property free of charge, but plans to turn that property into a slate of 55-and-older rental pieces, and would need the company to be out by the end of the year.

“We’re also residents of the community, we understand that this was not an easy decision,” the chairman of the board of fire commissioners said. “We tried alternative methods, but we found if you want to finish this building on time, you need another $750K to get it done, I think it was the only decision we can make at this point.”

Kulka said the firehouse should be finished by the end of the year if things keep at the current pace.

Some residents are still not convinced, perhaps even less so because of the Zoom meeting. Shoreham resident John Searing, who lives in the district and himself works as a project manager, said he does not feel they were given all the information needed to make a decision as he listened to the Zoom meeting.

“I went into this meeting with an expectation that the Fire District would be able to clearly articulate the need for the additional 13.8%, or $1 million, increase in this project,” he said via email. “However, neither the fire district nor their construction manager or engineer could even provide a rough estimate of expenditures thus far, which raised many more questions in my mind about the future need.”

The bond vote is set for Tuesday, Oct. 13.  Polls will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Shoreham Firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A. Voters are reminded to please wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

This article was updated Oct. 12 to correct the spelling of a name as well as add additional information from the budget document.

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The new firehouse along King Road in Rocky Point has been in construction since May of last year, but fire district officials said they need more funds in order to fully complete the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Rocky Point Fire District has set the date for a virtual forum to discuss an upcoming $1 million bond referendum to help finance new firehouse construction. The forum is set to take place via Zoom Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m.

The Rocky Point Fire District is asking for the community to consider a $1 million referendum to fund the remaining construction costs of the North Shore Beach Firehouse. In. a news release, district officials said an informational mailer has been sent out to residents. 

In a previous TBR News Media article, fire district officials said construction delays and a pandemic-induced drastic increase in material costs have mandated the need for new funds. 

Residents are asked to submit any questions they have about the project to the district via email at [email protected] by Tuesday, Oct. 6. Fire District officials promised to address all items submitted during the forum after providing an overview of the project. 

To join the meeting live, people can launch Zoom and enter the meeting ID: 823 0778 6425 and password: 767240.

The upcoming bond vote will take place Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Shoreham Firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A.

 

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The new firehouse along King Road in Rocky Point has been in construction since May of last year, but fire district officials said they need more funds in order to fully complete the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Rocky Point Fire District is asking residents for an additional $1 million bond on top of existing money to help finish up the Station 2 firehouse construction project.

In 2017, 204 residents voted “yes” and 197 voted “no” for the new building to replace the original firehouse built in the 1950s, alongside the purchase of a new ladder truck. Costs for the building were estimated to be $7,250,000. On Sept. 1, Rocky Point fire commissioners voted to establish a new $1 million bond vote set for Oct. 13.

Rocky Point vice chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, David Brewer, said it is unfortunate but they lack much other choice than asking the community to go out for more project funding. 

“We’re not happy about this, but in order to complete this project we were forced to go out to the public for another bond,” he said. “I understand people are tight right now, but we have no choice because by law we are prohibited from spending any more for that building other than what was authorized by the bond.”

Officials said this new bond would result in an annual increase of $17 to $18 for the average household in the district. 

There were issues from the start of the project, Brewer said, with them having to break ties with the first project manager they hired for construction, which set them back on their timetable. Officials have previously said the first bids for construction companies came in too high, and then after putting the project out for bid again, they received too few. Construction of the project fully started in May 2019. 

“When we originally worked with the first project manager, after reviewing some information we were given, we felt that the projected costs and completion date were somewhat unrealistic,” Brewer said. “Because of the delays and because we started so far back, there have been increases for construction.”

The commissioner cited an increase in labor costs as much as 4.5%, an increase of materials from 4.5 to 5%. Then with the arrival of the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of all construction projects until the first phase of reopening in May, commissioners were told they were required to “tack on” another 1% toward labor costs.

Without the additional funding, Brewer said they would have to make a drastic decision, which could mean even delaying the firehouse construction until they could go to a revote. The issue with any delay is that currently the Station 2 Black Sheep Company has relocated all its trucks, equipment and other apparatus to the warehouses of what was once the Thurber Lumber Company property. That site was loaned free of charge by developer Mark Baisch of Landmark Properties, though only temporarily as Baisch has slated the site for a new set of 40 one-bedroom apartments for seniors inside 10 buildings located along Prince Road and King Road. 

Brewer said Baisch is currently building on the other side of the road, and would need the company to be out of the lumber warehouse by the end of the year if that project is to keep on schedule. 

“If that happened, I don’t know what we’d do,” Brewer added. “We just wouldn’t have anyone else who would be able to house our apparatus.”

Otherwise, without a vote, the commissioner’s vice chairman said they would need to cut away from the project, but he did not know what could possibly be removed or slimmed down, as the site was planned to be a no-frills firehouse.

“The building was proposed and designed very conservatively from the get-go,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of amenities and fluff we could cut, especially to reach the amount of money we need. We are really between a rock and a hard place here.”

The fire district is hosting the vote Oct. 13 at the Shoreham firehouse located at 49 Route 25A from 3 to 9 p.m. While district officials said they would not be offering absentee ballots, they would be ensuring people wear masks and socially distance while conducting polling. 

The Rocky Point Fire Department building in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

Rob Bentivegna, center, helped build the Rocky Point EMS building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rob Bentivegna, a former firefighter and general handyman for Rocky Point Fire District often goes unnoticed. 

Usually a cheerful and magnanimous guy, Bentivegna allows other people to sit in the limelight, but firefighters, according to fire district and department officials, would be at a huge loss if it weren’t for their go-to maintenance man. 

Rocky Point’s Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He’s got a work ethic you don’t see in a lot of people anymore — it’s something to see,” said RPFD fire commissioner Kirk Johnson. “Anything he does do, he doesn’t do the minimum. If there’s a job out there, Rob takes care of it, he’s right on top of everything.”

Bentivegna, a Shoreham resident, has gone far beyond the scope of what his job entails. When RPFD bought a section of property at the corner Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, Bentivegna rolled up his sleeves to help reconfigure a new EMS vehicle garage out of what were two rundown buildings. Many thought the buildings were beyond repair. 

Bentivegna also set himself apart on another project: Repairing and revitalizing the old Parish Resource Center, a historical building that has been neglected for years. 

To hear the maintenance man speak of the building, one would think he designed and built it himself back when it was originally constructed in 1849. Bentivegna kept an eye on the details of everything from the molding in the building’s interior, to the hand-blown glass windows, which he stressed needed to remain intact. He built shutters, based off of old pictures, by hand. The constantly flooded basement was reconfigured into a space where volunteers could wash their equipment after a job, and the maintenance man has plans to turn it into a training space. What had once been derelict has been transformed into a useful community center. 

It was two years worth of work, and much of the effort he completed on his own time. 

Tony Gallino, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said Rob goes far above and beyond, noting that he has saved the district and the taxpayers thousands of dollars by doing work they would otherwise have to contract out. Bentivegna is a perfectionist, he said, who will do anything for the department and its volunteer members. 

When the fire department company 2 needed to move out of their space into a neighboring yard during construction, Bentivegna was instrumental in getting the new space on Prince Road ready to receive all the department’s equipment, trucks and personnel. He even went in to collect pictures and other items at the company 2 house to make sure they were preserved, Gallino said.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He doesn’t miss a day’s work, and he comes in on his own time, doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas day,” the board chairman said. 

Kristen D’Andrea, a Shoreham resident and spokesperson for Brookhaven town highways superintendent, said Bentivegna offers help to anybody who needs it. He had come by her house to offer landscaping support.

“We had a groundhog in our front yard we couldn’t get rid of,” she said. “He came over, set a trap and removed it. He wouldn’t take money. … He’s just a genuinely good guy.”

Bentivegna had been a contractor for more than 30 years and had joined the fire department as a volunteer around 15 years ago. Unfortunately, life had thrown him a curve ball. What coworkers and friends called an “illness” had left the Rocky Point volunteer in large amounts of pain. Johnson said the longtime firefighter was “crushed” to have to step down from active duty, but even as a paid employee he said the man cannot stop giving his time to make sure things are done well. The Shoreham 9/11 responders memorial had taken years of planning, but Bentivegna’s expertise in contracting and landscaping lent itself toward constructing both the wall of names and the fountain in the center of the grounds.

“For those few who know what he’s going through, actually being able to work and do what he gets to do every day gets him through it,” Johnson said.

Adam DeLumen, chief of Rocky Point Fire Department, has known Bentivegna for around 15 years. He said that Bentivegna has also renovated each company’s back rooms and created a training room at the Shoreham firehouse. He even helped with renovations to DeLumen’s own house several times. 

“Most people don’t know what they have with Rob,” DeLumen said. “He’s just one of those guys, he’ll do anything for anybody.” 

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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.

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

By Julianne Mosher

A former Rocky Point Fire Department treasurer pleaded guilty to stealing over $23,000 from the local department over the course of two years. 

The Rocky Point Fire Department Company 2 is using a warehouse on Prince Road as its main base. Photo by Kyle Barr

David Crosby, 28, of Rocky Point made his plea on Thursday to a petit larceny, an A misdemeanor, and will be required to pay the department back a full restitution equaling $23,324. 

“This is a just disposition that ensures the brave firefighters who serve the Rocky Point community will receive the full amount of money that was stolen from their department,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said. “The theft of public funds will not be tolerated. Our Public Integrity Bureau will continue to investigate and prosecute criminals who steal funds from our first responders and other public entities.”

The plea agreement will spare Crobsy prison time, officials said. He is expecting his sentence by Acting Suffolk County Court Judge Richard Dunne Jan. 14 to three
years probation.

From 2017 until 2019, Crosby served as the treasurer of Rocky Point Fire Department’s North Shore Beach Company 2, located at 90 King Road. During the two years, he made approximately 80 unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the department’s account totaling $19,744.09, along with $3,580 from a fundraiser the department held. 

When the department became aware of the missing funds a few months ago, they referred the issue to the District Attorney’s Office “right away,” William Glass, attorney for the Rocky Point Fire District said. Crosby surrendered to the DA Oct. 17. 

The attorney added that the money was not from taxpayer money but was solely from the fire department’s personal funds. 

“It’s a shame,” Glass said, “because the money was raised by the fire department.”

Crosby’s defense attorney, Paul Barahal, had no comment on behalf of his client. Assistant District Attorney Carey Ng, of the Public Integrity Bureau, will be prosecuting his case.

Rocky Point's Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

At the tip between Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, the old schoolhouse building, known as the Lecture Room, stands with its luminous white siding and large, red door. It’s situated like a moment out of time.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

For Rob Bentivegna, a member and general handyman at the Rocky Point Fire Department, it’s a beaming example of more than two years’ worth of work to restore a historic property.

“This was all stuff the fire district wanted to do, but the estimates were so high,” Bentivegna said. “I said, ‘Let me do it, it’s what I did for a living.’”

In March 2017, the Rocky Point Fire District bought the 0.92-acre property across from the fire department building on Hallock Landing. The site was to be used in the construction of a new EMS vehicle garage to bring EMTs closer to the Rocky Point/Sound Beach edge of the district line. In addition to the garage site, the property also came with the 2,000 square foot building known as the Rocky Point Lecture Room, also as the community church and Parish Resource Center. The whole property came with a price tag of $250,000.

With occasional help by fellow fireman Frank Tizzano, Bentivegna renovated and transformed what was once a termite-infested ramshackle building north of the Lecture Room. He transformed another building into a maintenance facility. 

But he didn’t stop there. It’s since become part passion project, part public service. The building is now being used for meetings and even for cheerleaders to practice.

When Bentivegna first came onto the project, vines had wormed their way under the walls and were crawling up along its inside. The windows were falling out of their frames and had been covered by plexiglass because they had been broken on the inside. The basement would flood during every storm. The roof was falling apart.

Once work began, the fire district maintenance manager said local residents came forward. They each had old photographs of the building, showing how it looked from the 1940s, and even further back to the 1920s.

“I did this with the love of making something what it used to be.”

— Rob Bentivegna

“That door is the same color door as it was in 1927,” he said.

The Lecture Room now has a completely new roof and new windows. He spent months searching for a company that would re-create the classic look of the crossbars on the windows. Inside is new carpeting, ceiling and walls. He even installed the walls and plumbing for a bathroom to the rear of the structure. 

Outside, the front door gleams with new paint, but all the doors’ glass are the original, hand blown windows. The tower above the front door and chimney to the rear are also original.

Fire Commissioner Kirk Johnson said Bentivegna worked near tirelessly on the project, often using his off time when not doing repairs at district buildings. In one case, the window shutters needed to be replaced, but nothing that could be bought matched how they looked historically. The maintenance worker instead crafted the shutters by hand.

“He really wanted it to look like it did back in the day,” Johnson said.

The handyman has plans come Christmas season as well. A tree in front of the building fell down during a storm earlier this year, landing full across the road. After removing it, Rocky Point-based Long Island Elite Landscaping Construction stepped in to supply a new pine tree, one Bentivegna plans to decorate along with the building for a bright and colorful tree lighting ceremony come December. 

Arnie Pellegrino, the owner of Elite Landscaping, has lived across from the building for more than a decade, saying he had once provided landscape designs to the previous owners, but nothing came of it. Once the fire district and Bentivegna got their hands on the property, he said, things have finally changed for the better.

“He’s a good man, he’s a good contractor,” Pellegrino said of Bentivegna. “He thinks about the neighbors.”

The Rocky Point Historical Society posted to its Facebook page thanking the fire district for keeping the historical building alive.

“We’re happy the fire department has saved the building and preserved it because it is a special historic site for the community of Rocky Point,” said historical society President Natalie Aurucci Stiefel. “We applaud their efforts to take care of the building.”

The Lecture Room’s interior was remade with new walls, ceilings and windows. Photo by Kyle Barr

The building was built in 1849 on land donated by Amos Hallock of the famed local Hallock family. It was built to serve the community as a lecture room and an extension of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church for the local area, getting together to raise $500 to erect the building. Stiefel said once the local one-room schoolhouse became too crowded, people taught school out of the building as well. Later the Long Island Council of Churches declared it as a Parish Resource Center.

Johnson applauded Bentivegna for all the work he’s done, not just with the church but with buildings around the district. He said without the energy of its handyman the district would need to constantly pay outside contractors. Instead, Bentivegna jumps in saying he can take care of it.

“He deserves a ton of credit for the way that place looks,” the commissioner said. 

But the fire district handyman said he doesn’t want to take all the credit. He thanked the district for its years of support and willingness to let him do what he needed to do with little hand holding.

There are still finishing touches Bentivegna is looking to add to both the building’s exterior and interior. The next step is to replace the rotting back deck with new wood, adding ramps to make it accessible for wheelchairs and people with disabilities. He is currently working on the basement, where the district has stored numerous items from the other firehouse located on King Road, which is currently being rebuilt. The plan is to use the basement for washing gear after a fire, which is now mandated by New York State. After replacing the basement windows, he plans to make the basement a sort of training room, with removable walls for firefighters to practice search and rescue.

It’s at least another year of work, but for the Rocky Point handyman, he’s nothing but excited to see the entire project come to completion.

“I never once looked for someone to tap me on the back,” he said. “I did this with the love of making something what it used to be.”