Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Big Flap in Small Town over Curbing Volunteer Fire Fighters

By Tim Tedesco

On December 4, 2013 Spring Valley, NY Mayor Demeza Delhomme prohibited village employees who are volunteer firefighters from responding to fires or emergencies during working hours, igniting a debate about whether the policy endangers lives and property. Shortly after taking office, Delhomme declared that his top priority was cleaning up the small village and instilling more efficient management. He said any serious fires — and Spring Valley firefighters’ top 1,000 calls annually — can be handled by other village volunteers or other departments can be called to provide mutual aid.

“Every five minutes we have a false alarm,” Delhomme said, according to a local newspaper, The Journal News. “We can’t have people leaving their jobs. Everybody leaves work and comes back three hours later and then they go home. There has to be controls. They work for the taxpayers. My job is to change how things are run.”

This sparked an incredibly angry response from not only the Spring Valley Fire Department, but also caught the attention of departments and blog websites nationwide. “The Fire Critic,” regarded as one of the most insightful, enjoyable, popular firefighter blog websites, called Mayor Delhomme's actions “a brand new and completely idiotic precedence.” “The Fire Critic” is a Lieutenant for a Volunteer Department in Virginia.

This action has also sparked talks about its legality. According to New York State law, there is no law that state employers must let volunteer firefighters leave work for a fire call, but there is a law that prohibits employers from firing an employee because he/she left work to respond to an emergency. So in a sense, the Mayor's action is negated. 

The public also criticized his “rely on the mutual aid towns to help” theory because all of Spring Valley’s mutual aid towns are also 100% volunteer. In fact, there is not one single fully paid staffed fire department in Rockland County. The County is made up of 26 volunteer departments. So the question that is raised is “why rely on the neighboring towns to do exactly what you don’t want your firefighters to do?”

The Mayor commented that he believes firefighting in the village will continue unaffected, despite the fact that most of the village’s volunteer firemen work at the DPW, highway department, and other local tax funded departments; the same departments that he is trying to keep firemen from leaving from. Even a fellow mayor in nearby Haverstraw called Delhomme's ban a “dumb policy.” After just three days of uproar in the town among residents and firefighters, along with firefighters nationwide, the Mayor rescinded his ban.

Tim Tedesco is a 19-year-old junior at St Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Communication Arts. He enjoys being a Volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Mahwah, NJ and also volunteers with the Sparkill Fire Department while he attends St Thomas Aquinas. His love for the fire service has opened up an interest in writing articles about the different things going on in the fire service around the country.

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