This is from Firehouse.com
May 2--ALBANY -- For the first time, a state commission has recommended taking a hard look at New York's volunteer-led system of fire protection and requiring counties to at least consider assuming more control of their local fire services.
It's such a touchy subject that five of the 15 members of the Commission on Local Government Efficiency -- including Long Island's two members -- voted against even studying the idea.
But commissioners said they'd heard too many "horror stories" on Long Island and statewide about multiplying Taj Mahal fire stations stuffed with brand new equipment, at a time when volunteer numbers are rapidly dropping.
"Our taxes are far too high, and we can't continue to embrace the status quo and expect things to get any better," said Assemb. Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo), chairman of the local governments committee and a member of the commission, which presented its recommendations to Gov. David A. Paterson on Wednesday. "I guess they [volunteers] are a powerful constituency, but at some point we have got to learn to say no."
The commission, which drew in part on findings from Newsday's 2005 Fire Alarm series, emphasized that voters would have to approve, through referendum, any move to give their county broader power to coordinate fire services and review equipment and coverage decisions.
Its report proposed a range of other changes to the fire system:
Requiring all E-911 calls and police, fire and emergency medical dispatch to be handled by counties;
Empowering towns to create their own fire departments;
Holding all fire district elections on Election Day or on the same day in spring, run by the county board of elections, and notifying voters by mail of their fire polling place;
Making it easier to dissolve fire districts -- a measure inspired by the predicament of angry homeowners in the high-tax Gordon Heights Fire District;
Requiring a detailed study of the state's fragmented fire system, and more reporting on fire spending and budgets;
Devising new incentives tailored to younger volunteers.
Fire officials were unenthusiastic about most of the proposals. Bill Young, counsel for the state fire districts association, said putting towns or counties in charge of fire protection would be "extremely difficult" both logistically and because volunteers sign up only to serve their hometowns. Kirby Hannan, spokesman for the state firemen's association representing the volunteers, agreed. He argued for a more tailored solution to Gordon Heights' budget problems but favored the idea of county dispatch and new incentives.
Young also argued that reforms passed by the state in the wake of Newsday's 2005 series should be given more time to work.
Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, who along with Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) opposed studying county management of fire services, said county control would disrupt the sense of community that makes the volunteer system work.
But Weitzman said he will ask the Long Island Regional Planning Board to study countywide dispatching. "There's a lot of solid research that went into those recommendations, and whether you agree with them or disagree they are clearly worthy of discussion," he said.