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[Letter to the Editor]: Board of Rep Member Responds to Weekend Letter

A letter from Eileen M. Heaphy regarding Charter Revision Question #2.

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I would like to respond to the Letter to the Editor from Rachel Lussier (Oct. 20) about the fear of raised taxes if the Charter Revision question #2 concerning reorganization of Stamford’s fire service is approved on November 6.  Her letter is replete with incorrect information and erroneous judgments.

She claimed that the volunteer departments of Stamford will not be able to attract volunteer because of pressures from the career Stamford Fire and Rescue Department’s union.  This argument, which reflects tensions over the past decade, simply masks the true problem—that the volunteer departments are hurting for volunteers.  This nationwide trend reflects our changed economy and how families live today.  The volunteer departments are rooted in a time when the town of Stamford (North Stamford today) was rural and all hands left their farms to go put out a neighbor’s fire.  It also is rooted in a time when Stamford was a manufacturing town where workers were available to help out with fires since their factories were nearby.  Today, we are a finance and service economy focused downtown.  Moreover, today’s two income families often cannot find the time to commit to be a volunteer fireman where nights are filled with tasks once done by stay-at-home moms.

Faced with this shortage, the volunteer companies pushed for Mayor Pavia’s plan which would unite the volunteer departments under one chief and hire over 50 career fire personnel at a cost of $8 million the first year; the proposed budget includes over $1 million to pay off Long Ridge Fire Department’s long overdue settlement to its own paid personnel.  Ms. Lussier also claims that taxes would go up drastically because the SFDR would buy the volunteer fire departments’ property.  There is no such plan; the volunteers and their communities will continue to own their own houses.

The SFRD proposed a counter plan to the Mayor’s plan which would not increase their budget.  They are currently staffed at sufficient level in North Stamford to handle the workload that the Vols would have their new career hires perform.  The SFRD proposal (known as the Brown Plan) was an attempt to demonstrate that reality.  The Mayor only presented to the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety Committee the budget generated by the Vols.  Requests from the Public Safety Committee for the Administration to cost out the Brown Plan too were met with silence.

Ms. Lussier only talks about the four volunteer departments, when in fact there are five (as in the Big Five!).  Glenbrook Volunteer Fire Department, faced with a shortage of volunteers, invited the SFRD to stage an engine company there.  It is still a volunteer department, but the career and volunteers train together, eat together, and put out fires together.  Volunteers are increasing at Glenbrook and one volunteer has just been selected by SFRD to enter its new class of recruits.  The experience at Glenbrook demonstrates that cooperation can succeed if both sides put their minds to it.

Don’t let fear-mongering over taxes stop you from voting for a Charter Revision that will improve the safety of all our citizens.

Eileen M. Heaphy

Board of Representatives, D-8

Matt Maounis October 23, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Ms. Heaphy, with all due respect you "have drank the preverbal kool aid" that Union has served you. Volunteer depts hurting for manpower is not the issue at hand. Stamford was very fortunate to have a system of paid working together with volunteers for years (under the district2 contract). So much so that many depts reached out to us to see how and why it worked so well. The system the charter is trying to create is exactly the system that has caused many departments to paint white lines down the center on the buildings. The genesis of Mayors Pavia plan was not because of a shortage of Volunteers, it was based on the a system that worked in the past, and satisfied a legal judgments that the volunteer companies won in court. If the volunteers were to be replaced by the paid firefighters (assume 100 volunteers just for an example) . The city would have to replace them with 100 new paid fire fighters in order for the citizens to get the same level of service. As far as The Pavia Plan was going to pay Long Ridge off, that is totally wrong. The "Peter Brown" plan is pure fantasy. in your own words "we are a finance and service economy focused downtown" That’s exactly correct the growth is downtown where the Peter Brown" plan removes 22% of the paid firefighters and ships them up North. how long before those men need to be replaced downtown? Glennbrook is not example to follow, look at their records what percentage of call the do their volunteers make
Stephen Gladstone October 23, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Eileen Heaphy like the rest of the Board of Reps should be embarrassed that no one has financially vetted what this Charter Revision moment of foolishness will have on the City of Stamford and it's taxpayers. As you vote to the ultimate dismantling of the volunteer system, citizens better think twice what losing more than a hundred strong, certified firefighters who donate their time and work without salary and what that will mean to the tax base. Also as they relocate paid career firefighters to cover the residential areas what impact will that have when there are fires downtown? Voting yes to Charter Question 2 will cost more, raise your taxes, add to the danger of the existing conditions, and will send us down a path that will forever end volunteer firefighters working in the residential neighborhoods. Voters should Vote No to this Charter Change and demand that the Mayor fix the fire Dept in a way that is fiscally prudent and yes... send some of these Representatives home come election day, for not doing their job.
LD100 October 24, 2012 at 12:56 AM
You're blaming the lack of fiscal vetting on the Board of Reps is a classic case of historical revisionism. The blame lays solely with Mayor Pavia. He asked SFRD to come up with a cost neutral plan, SFRD delivered a cost neutral plan and the Mayor has done everything he can to prevent people from seeing the cost neutral plan. The Board of Reps asked Chief Brown to present his plan to the board, Mayor Pavia threatened to fire Chief Brown if he spoke to the board of reps. Do you still blame the board of reps for this? The Office of Policy and Management has had numerous chances to present the SFRD/Brown plan as it has been written and has never done so. Who does OPM report to? Mayor Pavia If the financial numbers in the cost neutral/SFRD/Brown plan are as bad as the mayor and Volunteers like yourself claim, why haven't we seen them? The Mayor could have had OPM run the numbers immediately. The Mayor hasn't andthe Mayor won't. The SFRD numbers add up and make sense. The Board of reps has also asked the Mayor for the final financials of his plan and The board of reps hasn't seen those either. They mayor has not let anyone see the numbers of either plan and you blame the board of reps? What is the mayor hiding? How anyone could even vote No to question two is beyond me.
Stephen Gladstone October 24, 2012 at 03:56 AM
The OPM gave the numbers to the board of reps at a meeting I attended and it was printed in the booklet. But you are referring to the Mayor's Plan... I'm not. I'm referring to this Charter revision that creates a "plan" with no budget or planning . The Charter revision committee just felt it was an idea whose time had come pressured by others. They held back the bonding issue because it was too complicated but but forward the Fire Question and asked it in such a backhanded and misleading manner that it is obvious to anyone who reads it that it is meant to confuse the voter with the gratuitous comment about supporting the volunteers. Which it will not.
LD100 October 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I'm certain the numbers you are talking about provided by opm in booklet form are not reflective of the sfrd cost neutral plan. Those numbers are for the duplication of sfrd in the volunteer districts. Please provide a link to the cost neutral numbers opm gave the board of reps or finance, they post all of the documentation they are given. I'll be waiting for your reply.
Matt Maounis October 24, 2012 at 01:25 PM
LD100 Post your name so we know you really stand behind your words. Both you and the BOR, show your ignorance when you ask for numbers on the Peter Brown plan. It's obvious the number are what they currently are. The reason the cost neutral plan wasn’t vetted, is because it's not a long term solution. Within a year the apparatus that were moved would have to be replaced. So that means 1 new engine company and 1 new ladder company which equal 36 new hires, including 8 new officers. Even Peter Brown stated this is not an ideal plan, and he wouldn’t want to move the apparatus. But this was the best he could do given the parameters.
Stephen Gladstone October 24, 2012 at 04:15 PM
This was never about the Peter Brown Plan. From start to finish that was ridiculous. This is about the Charter Revision cost to the taxpayer's and the Union's desire to take over a district that is someone else's (and has been for a century...) are they also considering Darien or Pound Ridge in the future. I believe LD100 you can do the research yourself. Matt's correct hiding behind your tag and commenting anonymously is pretty sleazy.
Mike October 24, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Regardless of your feelings about the volunteer or the career firefighters you are correct in saying that this is about the Charter revision. The Charter is being revised because it is long overdue and the current system under which we operate is not in the best interest of public safety. At the end of the day whether you are a volunteer or a career firefighter it is hard to argue that the current charter revision passing would be better for both public and firefighter safety. Nothing else should matter...you are tasked with protecting the lives and property of the public as well as the environment. The system currently in place and the system that was in place prior to the merger does not adequately meeting those goals. I firmly believe that under the direction of a single Chief that both the volunteer and career firefighters can do more and be more efficient at accomplishing the task before us of providing the public with the level of service they deserve. Do what is in the best interest of public safety and vote Yes to Charter revision question #2. Michael McCullagh
Matt Maounis October 24, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Mike, I appreciate you not hiding behind some ID. Believe it or not 1 Chief is not the primary issue with the Charter. Safety is not an issue in Stamford, in fact the volunteers have a better record than SFR. The objections are plain and simple; Overlaying the SFR districts on top of the Volunteer district automatically open up the C/S district to become A or B over night thus raising taxes. It also give the city the ability to increase taxes in the C district. Second as far as safety goes IF SFR would agree to "swap rigs" move crews from Engine to Rescue to Ladder to Tanker so these units get out the door immediately much of the services debate goes away on the volunteer side. Why after 30 plus years should residents of the TRFD not be able to keep that type of service. If I have an electrical problem at my home I want an electrician, not a plumber. If my family is trapped inside a car I want a rescue not an engine to respond. The right tool for the right job and giving back to the citizens the services they once had. The Charter change doesn’t do this , that’s why people should Vote No.
Mike October 25, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I am not sure how you can believe safety is not an issue in Stamford, that in and of itself is reason to change the Charter. Without elaborating further in a public forum I am sure you can think of situations where more firefighters on scene immediately and a single chain of command would have served the public and the firefighters in a more advantageous way. As far as changing the districts from CS to A or B…the difference would be nominal at best if at all. The City is redistributing manpower and assets not adding any (zero cost overall). The tax burden would be spread throughout the city as it should be since the assets from SFRD are in fact responding throughout Stamford and it is necessary to continue that response. The alternative plan would also increase taxes by establishing a redundant system without the prospect of direct oversight by elected officials. In regard to “agreeing” to swap apparatus depending on the perceived need based on the call. Under the current system in order for those changes to take place the City as a whole needs the approval of 6 different Chiefs and/or fire departments. If the proposed Charter change is passed a single Chief of the united Stamford Fire Department can make those changes unilaterally throughout the City. There will be no room for the bickering and arguing that has stalled the progress of public safety in Stamford.
Mike October 25, 2012 at 01:29 AM
In addition, the idea of not swapping apparatus was to give the volunteer firefighters a greater role by leaving particular pieces of apparatus for them to take to the call. I hold both the volunteer and career firefighters throughout the City in high regard. I do however disagree on the organization of the current system as it was arranged in the Charter decades ago. Stamford is no longer a quaint town. It is a City that requires an organized force to deal with emergencies as they relate to fire and rescue scenarios. In the same manner, Stamford has one police department we need one fire department. A combined system throughout the city provides the best allocation of resources for everyone and there will not be district lines to stand in the way of progress now or in the future. Under a single system the volunteer and career firefighters will interact in a greater capacity and ultimately strengthen their relationship and public safety throughout the City. There is not an organization in existence that can operate efficiently under the direction of 6 different Chiefs. Ask yourself one question…If you were to design a fire department for Stamford would it have 6 Chiefs or 1 Chief to make decisions and be responsible for the entire organization? Vote YES to Charter revision question #2 for increased safety and efficiency.
LD100 October 25, 2012 at 01:34 AM
This isn't about me and I won't post my name. I'm simply trying to point out an issue with the process as I see it. The mayor requested a cost neutral plan by SFRD. SFRD delivered a cost neutral plan. I'm simply pointing out who is to blame for this. The mayor is to blame for this. You two are bashing the SFRD plan, citing a lack of information on it the mayor won't release. On top of it your asking for support of the Mayors plan, pretty convenient on your part.
LD100 October 25, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I've read everything published on the fire issue, I've seen every meeting (bor or bof) in person or on video. I've done my research, I've asked you to back your statements up and you have not, you've offered your opinion on the subject but no facts.
John Sierra October 25, 2012 at 04:27 AM
I am John Sierra in the interest of disclosure I am a professional firefighter in the SFRD. To be precise I am a Capt. in the SFRD, until a few months ago I was assigned to one of the units which presently and for more than four years has serviced the North Stamford area. The true fact of the matter is that North Stamford has had the service of fully staffed SFRD units which the Brown plan called for. As I stated this service has already been provided for over four years and will continue to be provided if the Charter revision is passed. The contention that 100 firefighters will need to be hired due to charter revision is completely untrue. Also it should be noted that amoung the 100 volunteers which Mr. Maounis mentions some of the names on his rolls are former SFRD members who have retired and moved to other parts of the country or who no longer volunteer yet their names are still used to beef up the numbers. Also it should be noted that sterling example of paid working with volunteers which Mr. Maounis touts forced a majority of the paid staff to vote to move to the SFRD due to concern for their own safety. It makes no sense to have more than one set of rules and more than one chief and expect good results. Mr. Maounis and Mr. Gladstone would like everyone to believe that this is an issue of the volunteers vs the union, its not. It is an issue of safety for the citizens and by extention firefighters, both paid and volunteer. These facts can all be verified,vote yes.

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