The two local fire departments are gearing up for their annual elections, both with one fire commissioner seat apiece up for vote. In both fire districts, incumbents are running unopposed and looking to retain their seats.
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.
Port Jefferson Fire District
The Port Jefferson Fire District is hosting its annual commissioner election, with current commissioner board chairman, Tom Totten, running uncontested for his seat. He has been chairman since 2006.
Totten did not respond to a request for interview by press time.
The vote will take place Dec. 8 at the firehouse located at 115 Maple Place between 3 and 9 p.m.
Terryville Fire District
The Terryville Fire District’s annual commissioner election also includes a separate proposition asking residents to approve expenditures for communications enhancements districtwide.
This year Board of Fire Commissioners chairman, James Rant, is running unopposed to retain his seat. Rant is a 36-year member of the department and has been commissioner for 10 years. He’s now seeking a third term.
In a phone interview Rant said he originally ran back in 2010 to offer his experience and knowledge to make sure people’s tax money is spent “as prudently as possible.”
This year, the pandemic has introduced numerous new strains on the department’s emergency services, an event which practically no entity from hospitals to governments had any playbook for dealing with a worldwide virus. Rant said the district and department had to scramble to procure the necessary personal protective equipment along with disinfecting supplies, all of which were an added cost in both supplies and manpower. Now, however, the commissioner said they are prepared for the current surge.
“We’ve been holding our own — obviously there was no playbook,” Rant said. “We did prepare for the surge we’re having now. We have cleaning supplies, gloves and other equipment coming up into the fall and winter season. We’re in pretty good shape.”
As far as the additional proposition, voters are being asked to authorize the district to purchase and upgrade its communication equipment and systems at a price not to exceed $783,000.
Rant said the district has been preparing for this big expenditure for the past few years, and the purchase will not impact residents’ taxes.
“It’s moving us along with the times in terms of communications,” he said. “Good communication for a fire department’s operations is crucial.”
The purchase includes new radio technology both in the field and at base. Technology will also allow the district to adjust temperature and turn on/off lights, which will reduce energy waste and potentially save money.
The district had previously been planning to potentially place a cell tower at the station 1 firehouse on Jayne Boulevard, which would have brought in some revenue to the district, but Rant said that the decision was made a few months ago to drop those plans.
The commissioner said the issue was if the district allowed a cell tower to go up at that location then companies would need 24/7 access, and they “weren’t willing to submit our neighbors in the middle of the night have work trucks and power tools going on.”
The vote will take place Dec. 8 at the main firehouse located at 19 Jayne Blvd., Port Jefferson Station, between 2 and 9 p.m.