Suffolk County, NY - August 13th, 2013 - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and the Suffolk County Fire & EMS Joint Council today announced an effort to increase training for first responders by putting the Suffolk County Fire Academy under the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES). Suffolk County would maintain its current budget of nearly $2 million for the Fire Academy. The move is not intended to save money in the near-term, but to provide more classes and greater oversight.
The reorganization would result in hundreds of more training hours for volunteer first responders. There will be approximately 900 additional field training hours by offering each department eight field trainings next year, up from six currently. Under the plan submitted to the county by the current organization, that number would have dropped to just five field trainings per department next year.
“Working together with the first responder community, this is a common-sense measure to provide as much training and education as we possibly can,” County Executive Bellone said. “These men and women are true heroes who put their lives on the line for us day after day. By reorganizing the way training is administered we can ensure that they are better equipped to face any challenge they may encounter.”
Currently, the Fire Academy is administered and managed by the Suffolk County Vocational Education and Extension Board (VEEB), which receives most of its budget from Suffolk County and the New York State Department of Education (SED). Due to declines in SED funding, the VEEB has cut the number of courses for first responders significantly, from 7,203 in 2010 to 5,678 in 2012, a 21 percent decrease.
This reorganization has the support of the Suffolk County Fire & EMS Joint Council (which includes the SC Fire Chiefs Council, the SC Fire District Officers Association, the SC Volunteer Fireman’s Association, the SC Ambulance Chief’s Association and the SC FRES Commission). The Joint Council has been working with FRES Commissioner Joe Williams for more than a year to negotiate a new contract with the VEEB which does not cut any more classes. When that effort stalled, the Joint Council worked with FRES to support a reorganization of the service.
“We support the decision to have the County manage the Suffolk County Fire Academy and we look forward to continuing to work with the County Executive to restore the level of training for our first responders,” John J. Carney, President of the SC Chiefs Council, said.
In a letter to the County Executive, the leaders of the Suffolk County Fire & EMS Joint Council wrote, “efforts like this show that collectively our Elected Officials and the Leadership of Volunteer Service can work together for the betterment of the services we all ultimately provide for the Taxpayers of this County.”
FRES is in a unique position to increase training and education for Suffolk County’s first responders without increasing costs. It would work to achieve designation of the Fire Academy as a regional training and fusion center, making it eligible for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or other partnerships with state, federal or other agencies. Such funding and partnerships are not available to the VEEB. FRES has previously received a commitment from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to fund 100 additional courses, which is also not available to the VEEB.
FRES would align the Fire Academy workforce under Suffolk County labor agreements, tying salaries and fringe benefits to more cost-effective levels and would streamline appropriate support functions and inventory-including building and vehicle maintenance, some clerical work and vehicles, to gain immediate operational efficiencies.