A new pension-style program for firefighters, which will be on the ballot in next week’s village election, would, if passed, help better recruit and retain members, fire officials said.
The village Fire Department, which has responded to more than 3,000 calls per year in recent history, according to Chief Eric Burel, has about 330 members. But, he noted, the department has lost several residents of the village to other departments in neighboring communities who have better Length of Service Award Programs, or LOSAPs.
A proposition to update the village’s LOSAP will be on the ballot in the village’s June 18 election, in which Mayor Francis X. Murray, Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley, Trustee Michael Sepe and Village Justice William Croutier Jr. are running for re-election uncontested.
The village implemented its current award program for volunteer firefighters in 1994. “In the last 25 years, the LOSAP programs have developed, and many of the surrounding towns have upgraded their programs to match,” said former Fire Chief Brian Cook at a village board meeting on June 3. “However, we have not.”
The “antiquated” program, he added, is making it harder to attract members. In response, Cook created a committee about 18 months ago, while he was serving as chief of the department, to identify and present a better plan for recruitment and retention, “with minimal impact to the residents of the village.”
“The 330 members of the all-volunteer Rockville Centre Fire Department ask for your support on June 18, and we respectfully ask that you vote yes to Proposition 1,” he told the meeting’s attendees.
Edward Holohan, chief executive officer of PennFlex Inc., which specializes in service award programs, said the new plan would provide a monthly lifetime payment after a volunteer reaches age 65. If approved by a vote by residents, beginning in 2020, “any volunteer who’s active enough to earn the required number of points, all based on state law, will earn what’s called a $20 service award,” Holohan explained. “If a volunteer earns 10 years of credit, for example, and then turns 65, they will get paid 10 times $20 — $200 a month for the rest of their life.”
The cost to the village of the current program is projected at about $165,000 annually, Holohan added. The new LOSAP, if adopted, he said, is estimated to cost about $385,000, which he amounted to a $36 increase for the average Rockville Centre taxpayer.
“This is vital in my opinion to recruitment and sustainability to our volunteer fire department,” Mayor Murray said at the meeting. “These are volunteers. They don’t get paid. They leave their houses all the time, day, night, cold, hot. They just come out and they rescue us.”
Murray has been a member of the Fire Department since 1972. Last month, he was elected to serve as the New York State Conference of Mayors’ second vice president, and said he has heard fellow mayors around the state talk about their municipalities’ trouble with recruiting and keeping volunteer firefighters.
“Thank God, in this village, because of their dedication, right now we don’t,” he said, “but I believe we need a better plan, and I believe in this LOSAP plan.”
Burel concluded the department’s presentation by saying that residents voting yes to the proposition “will allow us to continue to serve you with a high volume of service and professionalism as we have done for over 125 years prior.”
Voting will take place on June 18 at the John A. Anderson Recreation Center, at 111 N. Oceanside Road, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.