Fire chief presents list of priorities to commission

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Chief John D’Amato presented a wish list for 2013 to district commissioners at the Center Firehouse Monday night.

A practice of chiefs investigating fire calls before an alarm is sounded to other department members is delaying response times, according to Shelter Island Fire District commissioners.

It was never the intent to have a two-staged call out, according to Chief John D’Amato. But apparently there was some confusion in the directive previously given to the Southold Police dispatcher who handles calls.

After a 20-minute discussion of the problem at Monday night’s Board of Commissioners meeting, Chief D’Amato said, joking, “I think we’re in violent agreement.”

Going forward, when the chiefs receive a call to investigate, firefighters will also respond, but go to the firehouse and await word on whether trucks should roll. What concerned commissioners was the vision of firefighters on late night calls staying in bed until after a chief had investigated a scene. That delayed response time if the call turned out to be something of consequence.

Lost seconds or minutes could easily result in a minor incident turning into a dangerous fire with extensive property damage and potential injury, Commissioner Larry Lechmanski said.

Chief D’Amato asked that the policy be written and clearly communicated so that future department members would be aware of the practice.

That’s a refrain that has been heard from Chief D’Amato and the other chiefs with increasing frequency.

The chief presented commissioners with a three-page, 10-point letter of “concerns” that he said needs priority attention in 2013.

• “We need to achieve OSHA compliance,” he said, raising the issue of complying with federal safety rules that he had brought to commissioners’ attention in November. A visit early this month by an OSHA consultant revealed “a number of serious infractions” that impact safety and could result in significant fines, the chief’s letter said. He asked commissioners to sign a contract to allow the consultant to identify and correct deficiencies.

• He has ordered escape rope systems, but until firefighters have been trained to use them, the department will be “out of compliance,” Chief D’Amato said.

•A generator auto switch has failed during every power emergency this year and has required chief’s intervention to maintain power, he said.

• A houseman or janitorial service needs to be in place to assure that the station is properly cleaned, including moving trucks so bays can be cleaned. “My recommendation is that you hire one houseman and that you utilize the civil service system to hire into that position,” he wrote. In other departments, housemen take full charge of mechanicals and generators in all buildings, he said. They also maintain OSHA documentation and perform OSHA compliance inspections, he said.

• Significant improvement in the overall appearance of the bays could be achieved through the purchase and placement of improved racks for members gear.

• The completion of radio upgrades should be a priority.

• The department needs a long-term plan for replacing pagers. “It remains a constant task to keep members supplied with working pagers,” the chief said.

• The siren maintenance contract should be rewritten and put out to bid, he said. The Center Firehouse siren has been down for months and still is not sounding for the correct duration, he said. The leased lines should be replaced with radio-activation to improve reliability and reduce costs.

• A three- to five-year budgeting plan needs to be developed to set long-range goals for the district.

• All Commission meetings should be held in the main room, not the small back room. That was something that was done while Ron Jernick was a  commissioner, but after Mr. Jernick’s resignation, the commissioners went back to the small room. A large turnout Monday night forced the meeting to be moved to the main room. “That arrangement is more professional, more comfortable and presents a welcoming and open appearance to the public attendees,” the chief said.

Commissioners agreed to look at the chief’s recommendations after their January reorganizational meeting.
j.lane@sireporter.com