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Terryville Fire District

Terryville EMS members, including, from left, Lauren Maloney, Andrew Hoyt, Tom Fauteux, Daniel Ortiz, Jacob Parrish and Gina Brett. Photo by Kyle Barr

If we are to keep using war terms to describe the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, calling nurses and doctors “soldiers” who are “on the front lines,” whose personal protective equipment are like “tools” or “weapons” in the fight against COVID-19, then the Emergency Medical service members, whether paid or volunteer, truly are the ones who make first contact with the enemy.

Joe DiBernardo, President of the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, donates masks to Kyle Matura of the Miller Place FD. Photo from DiBernardo

Though members of local EMS services said they don’t know exactly how to feel about that terminology. If anything, it’s the unknown of every situation that makes the whole thought stick.

“Every patient is a risk,” said Daniel Ortiz, an EMS member of the Terryville Fire Department. “That’s where I guess they say it’s a war zone, because you don’t know what you’re walking into.”

EMS members from all over the North Shore have experienced a heavy time of stress during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, though as the number of cases seems to have plateaued as New York enters the middle of April, these service members, both paid and volunteer, are still asking people to continue their social distancing, as we’re not out of the woods yet.

The emergency service members said they have been wearing much more gear than normal, including masks, head coverings, face shields and eye protection. Every single call they go on is in this gear, since every case is now treated like a COVID-19 situation, despite what might have been said by the caller on the phone.

“We trained for this, and I can honestly say this is the first time in 10 years that I’ve seen anybody suit up other than your annual refresher,” said Terryville member of the EMS squad Andrew Hoyt.

While the Terryville Fire District only covers about eight square miles, the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps. covers nearly 15 square miles, dipping into both the Huntington and Smithtown townships. 

Joseph Vollers, the 3rd assistant chief of the Commack corps., said they have been helping neighboring districts with their call volumes, including Brentwood, which has been a particularly large hotspot for coronavirus cases. With that, they have gone from one to two full crews with a driver and EMT available at all times. Terryville has effectively done the same, moving from one to two ambulances available.

“It’s a pretty big area we have to cover,” Vollers said.

Other fire districts increased the load and numbers of EMTs and paramedics on a shift. The extra hard part has been decontamination, as now after every call both the people on the truck and the truck itself have to be cleaned from top to bottom. 

If the job was stressful before, the understanding that one might be potentially taking the virus home with them after each stress only adds to the level of concern. Most agreed they had never seen anything at this scale. While EMS members knew they had to be aware of contractible diseases, such as tuberculosis, flu, scabies or even bed bugs, the pandemic levels of how far the virus has spread, every single person is approached as if they have SARS-CoV-2. 

David Sterne, the Setauket Fire District Manager, said there were five cases of COVID-19 in the department, with more staying home with suspected cases. Though as of now, four of those cases have returned to work. In Terryville, they’ve had two cases out of the 15 paid paramedic staff and 25 volunteer EMTs.

“It’s stressful for a lot of reasons,” Sterne said. “We’re in their environment where there could be infectious viral loads. If a patient is sick, it could be 10 or 15 minutes to take them to the hospital … everyone fears bringing it home to their families and loved ones.”

Sterne added the district has had to make do with a lack of certain items, such as the coveted N95 masks for their medical personnel. New policy has been these masks, which are normally only supposed to be used once and then thrown away, have been used multiple times. Setauket FD had been concerned at several points with limited supplies, but with support from Suffolk County, Sterne said they are now in a relatively good spot.

But support for the fire departments are coming from all corners and some unexpected places. On Wednesday, April 15, retired FDNY Deputy Chief Joe DiBernardo, who is president of the Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, worked with y Fire Hooks Unlimited, a company that manufactures tools and supplies for firefighters and police, to deliver 100 N95 masks to the Miller Place Fire Department and 200 to the Setauket Fire Department.

Joe DiBernardo, president of the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, center, donates masks to the Setauket Fire Department. Photo from DiBernardo

The memorial foundation is for DiBernardo’s son, Joe DiBernardo, who was injured in the line of duty during a tenement fire in 2005. He died as a result from his injuries in 2011. The foundation works to train and equip firefighters in need.

Now the districts have settled into the routine and have seen a small improvement in the number of calls from mid-to-late March, where the number of coronavirus deaths started to rise with startling speed. 

With suspected coronavirus patients, it wasn’t so much the usual dealing with people having injuries or back and abdominal pains, it was instead situations where a person might desperately need oxygen. While the numbers of people with heart attacks and other sudden traumas have stayed the same, EMT staff said people calling for respiratory issues tripled in the month of March.

Other, more usual calls of non-life threatening injuries dropped off significantly. EMTs said this was largely because people did not want to go to the hospital where the possibility of viral infection was that much higher.

“I think there’s people afraid to go to the hospital,” said Gina Brett, the Terryville EMS coordinator. “They say, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital for knee pain, because I might get very sick at the hospital.’”

District officials said that despite the load, they’ve managed.

“Overall it hasn’t been exceedingly stressful where we can’t function,” Vollers said. “Our crews have been amazing at overcoming all stresses, with 2, 3, 4 calls back-to-back, they’ve done a great job.”

Despite the stress, the service members agreed their communities have been excellent in their care and even compassion. The Commack Fire Department, for example, recently held a drive where community members donated over 500 items, both nonperishable food and medical supplies. 

Otherwise, EMTs said the best thing for people to do is continue social distancing to help flatten the curve. Another suggestion is after calling 911, people should meet the EMTs and paramedics outside the home in order to best reduce first responders’ interaction with anything that may be contaminated. 

“It is an incredibly long time to have that level of awareness and vigilance,” said paramedic Dr. Lauren Moloney, an associate medical director for the Stony Brook University paramedic program. “God knows how long it’s going to go on for. That’s the hardest thing — trying to find what is your date you’re trying to get through.”

This article was amended April 16 to amend the nature of Fire Hooks Unlimited’s operations.

This article was amended April 17 to correct the name of the Commack volunteer ambulance corps.

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The cell tower has been proposed for the southwestern portion of the property. Photo from Google maps

The Terryville Fire District is moving ahead on plans for a cell tower at its main firehouse, one they say could make the difference in emergency situations. 

The fire district has proposed creating a 120-foot monopole cell tower at the southwest portion of the property. Steve Petras, the district manager, said they are working with Port Jefferson Station-based LI Tower Partners. While Petras said they have not yet confirmed which provider would be on the tower, he mentioned AT&T was currently at the top of the list.

The cell tower, which district officials called a “mobile communications tower,” will include apparatus to extend the reach of the fire department’s radio equipment. 

So far, the final engineering reports have yet to come in, according to Petras. At its last meeting, March 26, the Town of Brookhaven voted unanimously to waive the site plan requirements and building fees for the cell tower, due to the district being a nonprofit. The fire district would still need to bring such a plan before the Town Planning Board in public hearings.

In May of last year, residents living near the Terryville Fire Department’s Station 2 firehouse on Canal Road vehemently protested the proposed cell tower. That tower had been proposed for the rear of the property, closer to the trees on the north side of the facility. 

Residents had complained that it would be an eyesore and decrease their property values. Leaders of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association joined in the protest, saying the fire district had not properly advertised its intentions to residents.

District officials disputed that, saying they had placed a legal notice in the March 16, 2017, edition of The Port Times Record on proposals for a cell tower on Canal Road and Jayne Boulevard as well as broadcasted those plans on all the digital signs outside each firehouse.

“When we sat down at those meetings, nobody from the community came out,” Petras said.

However, the new proposed location for the cell tower is enclosed, not by residential homes, but by retail businesses. 

Sal Pitti, the president of the civic, said he has not been contacted yet by the fire district, but the civic has not yet taken a stance on such a cell tower at the Jayne Boulevard location and would have to talk to the few people residing in the area, such as those living in the Fairfield Gardens on Terryville Road. 

However, of the three firehouses that could house a cell tower, “that’s the most desirable one,” he said.

The district manager said the fire district’s main justification in building a tower is two pronged. One is to eliminate dead zones within the district, while the other is to open up more potential revenue to the district to try and help keep taxes down.

The first point could mean the difference between a quick or slow response, or life and death.

“We’re having a hard time communicating with portable radios,” Petras said. “All our apparatus is outfitted with 4G, but we’re getting really bad reception in some areas — that’s a life safety issue for us … that’s unacceptable.”

The district manager said he did not yet know how much revenue the district would receive from the cell tower, and, depending on which service picks it up, the fire district would not have to spend time or money on building it or its maintenance.

This article was amended Oct. 15 to correct the company that is constructing the tower.

Terryville Fire Department's Main Fire House
Captain James Guma of Company 1. Provided photo from James Guma.

Terryville Fire District election results are in, and Captain James Guma of Company 1 has been elected to a five-year term as commissioner.

Guma won over his opponent, department volunteer member Daniel Gruoso, with a total of 275 ballots, counting both numbers at the polls and absentee ballots, according to District Clerk Frank Triolo. Gruoso garnered a total of 200 votes both in-person and absentee, but he also gained 21 affidavit votes. Guma received four.

“I would just like to thank all my supporters, and I’m looking forward to a great five years,” Guma said. He also thanked his opponent for his continued service to the community as a member of the department.

Gruoso also thanked his opponent for a good race, adding “Jim will do a good job.”

 

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Protesters in Port Jefferson Station object to a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

The residents who live surrounding the Terryville Fire Department Station 3 on Canal Road can already picture it in their heads — a metal tower rising to the sky, an eyesore for all to see. It’s a project that Port Jefferson Station resident and protest organizer Teresa Mantione said was going to tank their property values.

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic President Sal Pitti protests a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

“They have the reason it’s their property, but we live all around here,” Mantione said. “It’s all about money. They are going to get a lot of money for this project.”

Multiple residents whose homes surround the Canal Road fire station said they thought a cell tower would be an eyesore, and they feared their property values would be dramatically reduced if the tower is constructed.

James Rant, a commissioner for Terryville Fire District, said the cell tower has so far been tabled, and the district is not even sure if they will make any more headway on the project. Otherwise, he said the district was looking to help all residents in the district, as a lease agreement for a cell tower could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for the district over several years.

“This wouldn’t be paid for by the district, but the cell providers,” Rant added. “This was explored as a means of bringing revenue into the district.”

Andy Ram, who lives directly across the street from the firehouse, said he would be looking at it every day as he walks onto his lawn.

“There was no consultation,” Ram said. “We pay taxes here, and this is the first time I learned about this.”

Protesters also claimed the fire district has not been upfront in informing the community about their decision. 

Bill Freda points to where the cell tower would be located, saying he would see it from his backyard. Photo by Kyle Barr

The fire district had included a legal notice in the March 16, 2017, edition of the Port Times Record on proposals for a cell tower on Canal Road and Jayne Boulevard, though recent news has been quiet on any new cell towers. However, even with the legal notice, residents said they had little news by the fire department online or in other print forms.

Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, joined in the protest saying he felt the fire department did not do enough to reach out to the community. He added the department had neither presented nor talked to civic leaders about the project.

“They could have easily gone through so many other routes to let members know this was going on,” Pitti said. 

Bill Freda, a 16-year volunteer and former captain in the fire department, has a backyard that looks at the surrounding trees to the rear of the fire station property. Later in the year, when the leaves fall from the trees, he fears he will have a front-row view of the new cell tower.

He said volunteers in the department had little to no knowledge of the new cell tower, and he fears the tower will directly impact his and neighboring property values.

“I’m taking a huge hit on this — this wipes out my investment,” he said. “I wish they could put this somewhere else or rent space on another tower.”

Protesters in Port Jefferson Station object to a potential cell tower along Canal Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rant said he was skeptical that a new cell tower would hurt local property values. Though he lives next to the Lawrence Aviation superfund site, he said he has seen very little impact on the price of his home.

Protesters point to studies such as a 2014 survey by Washington, D.C.-based National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy which said 94 percent of those respondents said cell towers would impact interest in a nearby property.

In addition to the protest, more than 150 people have signed an online Change.org petition saying they don’t want a cell tower at the fire station.

“They did not follow proper procedure and laws,” Port Jefferson Station resident Jim Hall wrote on the site. “Do not want this in my neighborhood. It’s a money grab.”

This post has been amended to change Bill Freda status to ex-captain in the fire department.