Sometimes You Just Have to Throw Some of our Money at a Problem

The press release is dated April 3, Suffern, N.Y., and the title is Supervisor St. Lawrence Meets with Hillcrest Firefighters. At the meeting were the Commissioners of the Moleston Fire District, the Hillcrest Fire Dept. Chiefs and Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence. The problem to be discussed was the firefighters’ formal request to be relieved of their duties in New Square. They wanted out because the numerous fire safety violations, and the abuse and lack of cooperation they met in the community, made it too dangerous for them to continue risking their volunteers.

The firefighters came with a detailed list of problems that needed immediate attention (see chart below), but by the end of the meeting, there were only two action items decided. The first came from the firefighters—they would continue to respond to fires in the Village of New Square. The second was from the Supervisor—he said the Town was already researching a way to help building owners in the Village to "finance the installation of safety devices such as sprinkler systems and smoke alarms" The press release called it a "Public Safety Loan Program," which is fitting because we the taxpayers will pay for it either with our Town or State taxes, or both.

The situation, then, is that we will remediate the illegal building practices in New Square, which the State Inspector called "probably the worst example in our state’s history of noncompliance with the state codes." We will pay to fix the problem. And the volunteer firefighters will continue to risk their lives until the violations are addressed. And the population in the Village will continue to live in conditions the State finds dangerously unacceptable until the money is found for the remedies.

But the question remains, why should the economic burden fall to the average taxpayer? Would a landlord in Hillcrest who broke the law by having no sprinkler systems or working smoke alarms be met with the same bailout offer? Would a builder who created illegal additions in his development in Chestnut Ridge be given cash to install fire escapes? And what about the total lack of commitment to enforce the fire codes by the State, by the County, and the Town?

When I read the press release, which by the way is only 14 lines long, I was surprised that there wasn’t a long list of specific strategies for the problems that caused the firefighters to draft their resolution. There are two contacts listed on the release, so I decided to call to get the upcoming agenda.

The Supervisor is out of the country, but his assistant, Phil Tisi, answered my questions. I asked when the next meeting was scheduled and he told me he didn’t know. I also asked if the next meeting, or others would be open to the public, but, again, he told me I would have to check with the Supervisor when he returned. He did assure me that he anticipated that State and County officials would be involved in consequent meetings. When I asked which budget the Public Safety Loans would come out of, he said there would probably be a search for a source like a state or some other program.

The problem with yet-to-be-determined meetings and hypothetical solutions is that the clock is running on this critical situation. The firemen know it. I get the feeling the State knows it also, but there seems to be little political will to do something about it. If this is the result of politicians, state and town, making political calculations while volunteers and residents continue in the dangerous situations they are in today, that is deplorable. Perhaps it’s time to clean some offices.

Michael Castelluccio

The 8 Issues the Firefighters Said Must be Addressed

The abuse responders are subjected to in New Square

The widespread code violations in the community

The absence of a full-time code enforcement official and safety inspections

The noncompliant multiple dwellings and wedding hall

The lack of cooperation from New Square school officials

The unsuccessful efforts to get officials to remedy the situation

The failure of the Ramapo Town Board to schedule a public hearing

to discuss the problem despite the requirements of Section 172-f of the the Town law.

[Read the entire legal complaint here]

Resolutions from Meeting of Firefighters and Supervisor St. Lawrence

The firefighters "assured [the Supervisor] there would be no discon-

tinuance of service to the residents of New Square.

St. Lawrence promised "a new era of cooperation and accountability." (A nice slogan)

St. Lawrence assured all that "the Town of Ramapo is researching the feasibility of a Public Safety Loan Program which will assist building owners in financing the installation of safety devices such as sprinkler systems and smoke alarms." Taxpayers will pay to remediate the illegal conditions permitted for so long in New Square.

[Read the official press release "Supervisor St. Lawrence Meets with Hillcrest Firefighters" here]