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Alix Didrich | Democrat

SOME LIVINGSTON MANOR firefighters have charged that there are problems within the department, though the Board of Commissioners downplays the claims. The firehouse is home to the hamlet’s two companies.

Manor FD deals with internal conflicts

By Jeanne Sager
LIVINGSTON MANOR — January 29, 2008 — The resignation last week of Livingston Manor Fire Department Captain James Buck and his lieutenant, Guy Carlson, brings to four the number of officers who have decided in the past few months to end their terms in the fire district – well before the April elections.
Buck, in a letter to the town board, alleges that problems exist.
Meanwhile the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office is midway through an investigation into pranks on fire apparatus that Undersheriff Eric Chaboty characterized as “potentially life-threatening.”
But the chairman of the Livingston Manor Fire District’s Board of Commissioners is quick to jump to the department’s defense.
“I don’t think anyone in Livingston Manor has anything to worry about,” said Bill Roser Sr.
The chair calls the problems in the firehouse internal personality conflicts – conflicts that heated up after he won his bid for re-election to the board in December.
A list of unfilled requests made by Buck in his role as captain of the Manor Hose Company tells a different story.
Titled “Items NOT RECEIVED FROM Board of Fire Commissioners As of December 01, 2007,” the list runs over a page with Buck’s detailed notes.
Requests for six leather helmet fronts for Manor Hose members begin in late 2006 by Buck’s predecessor, and Buck’s reports show he appealed as much as six different times for certain items for members of his crew including turnout coats and pants and bunker boots.
Something as simple as a box of flares, requested in June, has yet to be filled, Buck said.
According to former chief Ken Fisk, who stepped down late last year shortly after chief Dave Jersey left the department entirely, not outfitting firemen has been at the crux of the clash between the officers and commissioners.
The commissioners have been demanding firemen go for state-mandated training.
There’s no way around something the state requires, said both Roser and Commissioner Roy Amback.
But Buck and Fisk said it’s hard to complete your training when you don’t have the gear to do it.
After 23 years with the fire company, 14 years as an officer, Fisk said last year was the first when it ceased to be fun.
“I [once] looked forward to the fires, I looked forward to the drills,” he recalled. “But it got to the point where it just wasn’t enjoyable to go down there.”
He sat at commissioners meetings where the board fought about giving a flashlight to the fire police.
“It was ridiculous,” Fisk said. “That to me… when you’re on Route 17, cars are coming at you at 65, 70 mph, you need a flashlight.”
The commissioners say they can defend every action, every decision to put off buying equipment.
“You can’t just buy something that costs a lot of money in June or July and then have a major breakdown, have to burden the taxpayers with another request,” Amback said.
His plan all along – which he said came to fruition late last month – was to fill requests with monies left over at the end of the year.
That’s been done, he said. Turnout gear that costs as much as $1,300 a man has been ordered - two sets per company.
“Some of the stuff is down there right now, waiting to be picked up,” Amback said.
Then there’s the mischief in the firehouse.
The Sheriff’s Office was finally called in when the throttle on a pumper truck had been opened wide and left that way in the firehouse, Buck said.
Traditionally, the throttle is opened up only at a fire scene, the revved up engine producing the power needed to push out the high velocity of water needed to flow through the firehoses.
But if a truck’s turned on and driven with the throttle wide open, Buck said, “it’d be like flooring your car and putting it right into gear.”
With the fire whistle going off in your ear, it’d be easy to miss the roar of the engine – and a fireman taking off could damage the engine driving that way, Buck surmised.
Worse, the time required to shut off the truck, fiddle with the throttle, and get things moving again could waste precious seconds in an emergency situation.
Buck found he couldn’t go to a fire scene without wondering, “these pranks with the fire trucks, is this going to carry over to an active fire scene? If it does, it can really have a life-threatening impact.”
Trust was going downhill in a place traditionally known for its camaraderie.
And Fisk said the rules were thrown out the window.
Although he steered clear of naming names because Manor is a small community, Fisk alluded to some commissioners looking the other way when family members made mistakes.
“Certain individuals would just take the trucks out,” he said. “It put me in a bad position as chief to go by the firehouse and not know where the trucks are!
“It was an upsetting thing, and it kind of pulled at both companies.”
Fisk, Buck and even Chaboty and Town of Rockland Supervisor Patrick Casey have said they’re seeing a war between Manor Hose and Hoos Truck.
Contacted by both Buck and the commissioners, Casey said the town board has no official place in the firehouse, but he set up a committee with Councilmen Glenn Carlson and Ed Wegman as liaisons to mediate.
“I really want to stay neutral,” he said. “But they’re not playing like big boys down there.”
Roser, whose son Bill Jr. has stepped in as acting chief until April, took a different tack.
He’s invited the town board down to the firehouse for a tour.
“They can look around and then tell us we’re not doing our job,” he said. “The people of the Livingston Manor Fire District have nothing to worry about.
“You don’t run a department on two people,” he continued. “If I get mad and quit the board, I’m sure the board would run tomorrow.”
Roser Sr. said a survey done recently of the two companies in Manor tells a very different story.
“As of right now, the two companies want to merge into one,” he said.
But Buck, who returned home from college in 1998 and decided to join the fire department to help his community, doesn’t see it.
His father was a Manor firefighter. So was his uncle.
“Through the years, I’ve been told it was always a friendly rivalry,” Buck noted.
“It was, who can get the truck out the fastest, that sort of thing,” Fisk concurred.
Even among chiefs, Fisk said it didn’t matter who was “a Manor Hoser or a Hoos Trucker.”
“But with some people, their egos got the best of them,” Buck said. “Their reasons for being involved became very much for themselves.
“It went from being a friendly rivalry to not-so-friendly.”
When Buck wanted to see minutes of the board of commissioners meetings – all of which are a matter of public record – he couldn’t just ask Secretary Craig Sherwood nicely.
He filed a freedom of information act (FOIA) request to see that his captain’s report, with his request for things he thinks affect safety of the department, “were making it in black and white.”
“I was getting a verbal OK at meetings, but after I was getting a different response,” he explained.
Buck said his FOIA request was ignored – until he contacted District Attorney Steve Lungen.
“I felt I was constantly running into a brick wall,” Buck noted. “Nobody’s ever going to agree, but you can agree to disagree.”
Ironically, that’s where Roser Sr. does agree.
“I think it’s more of a personality thing,” he said, placing the blame squarely on Buck’s shoulders.
What’s clear is a battle indeed exists in the Livingston Manor Fire District.
With four officers gone and elections slated for April, taxpayers can find out what’s going on by showing up at the open meetings of the commissioners.

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