Newsday Series Stirs Mixed Reactions

Some officials feel Long Island's volunteer fire departments spend extravagantly, while others believe the newspaper's series vilifies NY firefighters.

Stittleburg also stated that there are people in the community with expertise waiting to help, but firefighters aren't always willing to open the door. Until that happens, volunteer departments will continue to be over-burdened -- training, running calls, fund-raising and educating the public. "There are people who don't want to be firefighters, but they wish to donate their talents to the community," Stittleburg said, adding it has not been easy getting those people accepted.

All the interviewed sources so far believe that some form of consolidation may be necessary to improve the efficiency of fire departments. Debobes believes that having volunteers in-house with assigned schedules and assigned duty shifts would be an effective way to curb response times. Reducing the number of fire chiefs, managers and administrators, he believes, could improve communication and allow districts to be covered more equitably.

Curl said re-aligning, merging or consolidating the departments wouldn't be easy. "Traditions run long and deep."

LeBlanc echoed these sentiments, while emphasizing the difficulty in changing because of what he believes to be little oversight. He agrees that adding a position like a parish coordinator may be a good means to reduce the fire department bureaucracy, adding, "Everybody is reluctant to give up control of their own little kingdom. Chiefs don't' want to give up control. It is easier not to compete with neighboring departments."

Just what impact the newspaper series has on the departments has yet to be decided. But, one fire official said he isn't optimistic. "I think it's going to have lasting implications especially on morale and on our recruitment efforts," said Carpenter.

In a letter to Long Island residents that was published in Sunday's edition, FASNY explained the fire service, the types of incidents they handle and the training involved. They also encouraged members of their community to join their ranks.

All respondents agreed that the Long Island community would have to play the largest role in any reform movement. The Newsday article had demonstrated, however, that the public is generally unaware of how their fire departments are organized and financed.