The attorney representing the eight paid firefighters eliminated from the department said the village board’s decision violates a section of New York State Village Law because it was done without a resolution and a public referendum.
In a letter to the village obtained by The Journal News/lohud.com, attorney Richard Corenthal referred to Section 10-1020, which states, “The board of trustees of any village may, by resolution, abolish, in whole or in part, the fire department in such village, which action of the board of trustees shall be subject to a permissive referendum as defined in this chapter.”
“The village’s actions deprives the residents of Port Chester the right to vote on whether to abolish the paid firefighters, a critical public safety issue which should not be decided in secret behind closed doors,” Corenthal said in the letter. He demanded the firefighters be reinstated.
Port Chester’s government decided to axe its paid firefighters and convert its department to an all-volunteer staff as an 11th-hour budget-balancing measure Monday night, expected to save $800,000. The eight firefighters are on paid administrative leave until the end of the month.
Mayor Dennis Pilla said the village was aware of Section 10-1020, but said it doesn’t apply to Port Chester’s situation.
“We did our homework on this beforehand. I believe the law he refers to is for an entire paid fire department,” Pilla said. “The Port Chester Fire Department — as designated by the village charter and its code — is the volunteer fire department that remains intact.”
“We are not abolishing a fire department,” Pilla said. “We are eliminating eight paid firefighter positions that supplement our volunteers.”
The village says there are 150 interior-trained volunteers and 150 exterior trained volunteers.
Meanwhile, the Village of Rye Brook is considering legal action against Port Chester over a shared services agreement that dates back to 2013. Rye Brook pays Port Chester about $1 million per year until 2018 for a paid Port Chester firefighter to cover a 12-hour overnight shift every night.
Rye Brook filed a notice of claim against Port Chester on Wednesday for violating the contract. Port Chester Village Manager Christopher Steers sent a letter to Rye Brook explaining why the village didn’t violate the agreement.
In the letter, Steers referenced a paragraph in the contract that says the villages will meet to review the agreement if staffing levels change in either village.
“While the village’s action may have affected its ability to continue its literal performance of a single provision of the agreement, I strongly reject any such contention of breach,” Steers wrote.
“It’s nonsense,” Rye Brook Mayor Paul S. Rosenberg said. “You can spin it any way you want. A contract is very literal thing. Anything else than a paid career firefighter as stated in the contract is a breach in contract.”
Steers said Port Chester has offered to staff the Rye Brook firehouse with two volunteer firefighters overnight with a rig. Rosenberg said that’s not what Rye Brook wants.
“As much as we love and respect the volunteers, that’s not what the contract says,” Rosenberg said. “It says a paid career firefighter, and that’s what we want.”