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Richard Corenthal Quoted in Lohud Journal News, “State Cites Port Chester Fire Department for Violations”

Corenthal_RichardTwo volunteer firefighters were injured during a March fire at 40 Cottage Place because they weren’t properly geared or trained, according to violations issued Friday by the state.

The New York State Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau issued five violations, four of which were deemed “serious.” The village has been given deadlines to address each violation.

The violations and accompanying six-page report said one firefighter failed to shut off the power to the burning house before opening up a side wall and was shocked when his ax cut a wire. The firefighter hadn’t received training since March 24, 2015, according to the report.

Another firefighter suffered smoke inhalation when he entered the burning building without his breathing apparatus, the report said.

During that single fire, at least four other incidents of firefighters entering the home without appropriate breathing equipment, according to the state’s report, and no one kept track of who entered and exited the burning building.

A memo written by Fire Chief Ed Quinn, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, instructs a firefighter to change the official incident report to say that the firefighter who suffered smoke inhalation was injured “outside the building footing a ladder.”

The injured firefighter said he signed the altered report, which was already filled out, because Chief Quinn told him to sign it, the state report says. That report was sent to the fire department’s insurance carrier.

When the injured firefighter was interviewed by the state, he denied the chief’s claim. He said he suffered smoke inhalation because he was inside the building for 20 minutes without the proper gear. The state cited supporting medical records in its report.

Quinn did not return a call and an emailed request for comment. The alleged alteration of the incident report was referred to the state attorney general’s office.

The Cottage Street fire, captured in a three Youtube videos each 15 minutes long, occurred on March 2, two months before the village board did away with paid the village’s paid fire department staff and shifted to an all-volunteer department. The village says there are 150 interior volunteer firefighters and 150 exterior volunteer firefighters.

“These violations were captured on a Youtube video and describe dangerous, life-threatening conduct of the village’s volunteer firefighters,” said Richard Corenthal, an attorney representing the eight career firefighters who lost their jobs. “It’s frightening to think that the village allowed untrained volunteer firefighters to enter a burning, smoky building without respirators endangering their lives.”

Mayor Dennis Pilla said in an email that the village has a good working relationship with the state Department of Labor and expects to quickly resolve the state’s violations.

“We will be meeting with them in the near future to discuss their warning notice and ensure that we maintain compliance to their satisfaction,” Pilla said. “The inspectors are fair and reasonable and seem to understand we are operating in good faith and in the public interest.”

For every day past deadline the violations are not addressed, the village will be fined a per-day penalty of $200 for “serious” violations and $50 for the one “non-serious” violation.

While the village has maintained that removing the paid fire department was a cost-cutting measure, Corenthal and Union President Vinny Lyon believe the move was retaliatory for his March 11 complaint that led to these violations.

“The village’s termination of the eight professional firefighters is part of a pattern of retaliation against individuals who complain about public safety in the village,” Corenthal said.