July 12, 2004

Letters to the Editor,

Everything in Ramapo is political, even putting out fires. For years our volunteer firemen have been complaining about Ramapo’s failure to enforce its own zoning and building codes, but they have done it quietly and behind the scenes. Supervisor St. Lawrence’s solution is, as always, political.

Nathan Rothschild, St. Lawrence’s fire commissioner, has just appointed Shlomo Koenig, Deputy Mayor of the village of Kaiser, one of the fire commissioners in the Monsey Fire District. He now has absolute control over the commission and has even less need to listen to the usual complaints about a lack of water pressure, traffic congestion, and the dangers created by illegal apartments.

Unfortunately, real world problems cannot be papered over by politics. In recent years we have had two deaths that resulted directly from our town’s failure to enforce New York’s building code. But it is likely that in the future our very rapid increase in traffic congestion will be the real killer.

Most of the roads in Monsey are narrow two lane roads that lack shoulders, or are bounded by sidewalks. In emergencies cars have great difficulty pulling out of the way for emergency vehicles. The two main north-south roads that connect downtown Monsey to my village of Wesley Hills are no better.

The result is predictable. The average time that it takes emergency vehicles to reach fires has been creeping up for years. At some point this will affect all of our homeowners’ insurance costs because the cost of fire insurance is based in part upon how long it takes the fire district to respond to fires.

But averages are misleading. The most dangerous time for a fire is during the morning when our roads are clogged with school buses. Just imagine how difficult it is for a fire engine to drive north from Monsey to Wesley Hills at 8:30 in the morning when school buses form an almost endless line going both ways on our roads. One of our residents discovered this for himself on June 9th when a trash fire erupted on his neighbor’s driveway. A volunteer fireman who lives around the corner arrived quickly, but, according to his letter to Supervisor St. Lawrence, it took the fire department and police at least twenty-five minutes to get to Van Winkle road from Monsey.

For years our volunteer firemen have complained about the failure of our town to build a fire house further north. St. Lawrence has always explained that we didn’t have the money, but he doesn’t seem to have any trouble calling for emergency meetings of his town board in order to commit millions of dollars for the purchase of "park land" without any public notice or discussion.

Our volunteer firemen have also recommended that Ramapo provide low cost housing so that more young firemen can afford to live in Ramapo with their families. Ramapo’s new comprehensive plan calls for an enormous increase in the housing density in Ramapo, but ignores both the need for an additional fire house, and the need for more volunteers who would be needed to man this house.

We should ask how much longer our loyal and brave volunteers will put up with St. Lawrence’s strange political priorities before they start to resign. St. Lawrence may be able to control the leadership of our fire district, but he can’t command the respect of our volunteer firemen.

Robert I. Rhodes, Trustee, Village of Wesley Hills