A letter from Richard P Suarino, ex-Captain Poningoe Hook & Ladder Company.
This letter was written in response to a the letter published from Lester Millman, Captain of Patrol 3, Truck 39, Rye Police Patrol.
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To: Letters to the editor,
I am writing in response to a recent letter that was submitted by Fire Police Patrol Captain Lester Millman in regard to the recent changes that have taken place at the Rye Fire Department. I would like to start by stating that I was a combined 14-year ACTIVE member of the City of Rye Fire Department. I spent two years as part of explorer post 700 as a junior firefighter. Then 12 years as a member of the Poningoe Hook & Ladder Company, where I served as first & second Lieutenant and then as Captain before resigning from the department in 2012. I have a combined 17 years in the Emergency Services.
The picture that Captain Millman has painted for the Rye citizens and would have one believe is that this change is a big surprise to the members of the department. It's not. Volunteer membership has been on the decline since probably the 1980’s, and since then the bleeding hasn't stopped, it’s only gotten worse. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, the department voted in several new members and it helped a little to put a patch on the crack in the dam. In the 2000’s as an active volunteer firefighter, a lieutenant and then captain, there were several ideas that myself and other active volunteers proposed to make some much needed changes to the department structure to help with rapidly declining membership. Recommendations were brought to the attention of the Board of Wardens, who at that time, controlled all decision making within the fire department. The problem was that the Board was consistently controlled by veteran members of the department who were not as active and ignored any and all input by young active members, to the point where some members were turned off and stopped showing up. Others resigned and some went to other departments. Rye’s changing demographics has had the biggest effect on membership. Gone are the blue-collar families of Rye. Many of the old long time Rye names that were connected to the fire department making it generational are no longer in Rye, forced to move because Rye is unaffordable to those that would volunteer. For every one member gained three are lost. A member joining as a college kid at 19 has to resign by 23-24 because they are forced to move out of Rye. And it's not just Rye membership that is down, nation wide volunteer firefighters are declining. Being in emergency situations, dealing with and seeing the things a firefighter may see is not for everyone. It's a calling, and the hours of training involved will take most free nights away, not to mention the required alarm response.
Leadership was and is non-existent under the Volunteer Chiefs of the department and when a chief did try to implement positive change he was quickly pushed out by older voting block. At Fire scenes, basic accountability of members was lax. Meaning, God forbid an explosion or collapse happened at a scene, the chiefs had no idea who had actually showed up at the scene. Some chiefs had nothing more than basic firefighting training. Most were being relied on because of their 30+ years in the department, yet they had taken no classes to sharpen their skills or update their knowledge. Any good leader in emergency service will tell you, you will never know everything and you are always learning something new until the day you retire. This business is always changing and evolving.
The Rye Professional firefighters often find that they are the only ones on scene. Sometimes I was the only volunteer on scene with them. During the winter of 2002 I was the only volunteer on scene for an afternoon house fire. Three career firefighters and I, with one of those professionals manning two pump panels and one ladder.
Commissioner Corcoran didn't just come in and decide to shake things up. He's a very educated man with years of experience and after speaking with numerous people connected to the fire department he saw there was a need for change. He has a job to lead the men and women of the Police and Fire Departments and the fire department problems are 20+ years in the making, ignored by past Board Of Wardens members and past chiefs of the department who kicked the can down the road. The public might be surprised that over 100 years of volunteer service are coming to an end but many of the current and past members are not.
Richard P Suarino
Past member and Captain Poningoe Hook & Ladder Company