Elections for fire district commissioners are being held throughout Long Island today, with contested races planned locally in the Riverhead and Wading River districts. Commissioners are elected by the public to run fire districts, which are taxing entities and are different from fire departments. Fire departments are run by the district, and their leaders are chiefs and assistant chiefs who are elected internally and approved by the commissioners.
Riverhead Fire District
Bill Bilski, a 20-year incumbent, is not seeking re-election. The vote to fill his seat will be between James Carey and John Tradeski Jr. They are seeking a five-year term.
Mr. Carey, 45, has been a volunteer firefighter for 20 years and says he also attends fire commissioner meetings on a regular basis. He retired as a construction foreman in 2008.
“I’m an independent thinker; anybody who knows me will tell you that,” Mr. Carey said. “I’ve been considering running for quite a while. I think the spending is out of control. We had one of the highest budget increases on Long Island. It’s about 10 percent. I feel I could be an asset as a voice of the people. We have to control and stabilize future spending and budgets.”
Mr. Carey’s brother, Ed, is a member of the commissioners, but James Carey said he will not lessen his criticism because of that.
“I’m not afraid to voice an opinion,” he said. “I’m an independent thinker and have the time to dedicate toward this.”
John Tradeski Jr., 59, is a 33-year member of the fire department who is a former chief, captain and “Firefighter of the Year” recipient. He is a member of a number of organizations such as the New York State Chiefs Association and the National Fire Protection Association, which set regulations for fire departments, and he’s making his third run for a commissioner seat.
Mr. Tradeski says that in addition to his fire-fighting experience, he also has 15 years of experience in making budgets at his job as a tech supervisor at Brookhaven National Lab. He said he was a member of a committee that looked into purchasing fire pumpers recently, and got two trucks for $820,000, despite the fact that the original price was $700,000 apiece for the pumpers.
“We need to keep taxes as low as possible,” he said, but added that sometimes costs are hard to avoid.
He said much of the district’s costs now relate to a $15 million bond approved by voters a few years ago to build the new firehouse on Roanoke Avenue.
Mr. Tradeski also said he’d like to establish a junior firefighters group in Riverhead.
“It’s been helpful in keeping volunteers for an extended period of time in other districts,“ he said. Studies show that 80 percent to 92 percent of youngsters who join fire departments though junior programs stay in the department, Mr. Tradeski said.
“It’s a valuable tool to keep volunteering alive and well,” he said.
Voting in Riverhead will run from 3 to 9 p.m. today at the Roanoke Avenue firehouse.
Incumbent Matt Wallace is being challenged by Mike Harrigan.
Mr. Harrigan, 38, is a four-year member of the department and has been a Suffolk County Police officer for 17 years. He won a “Firefighter of the Year” award from the county two years ago when he saved the life of a heart attack victim. Mr. Harrigan also has been the president of the Wading River Civic Association for the past year, and a member of that organization for about 15 years.
“People in the district want change,” Mr. Harrigan said. He feels the fact that the district has used surplus funds to keep taxes lower is an indication that it has been overtaxing people in the past.
“Fire districts have always been one of the more overlooked items on the tax bill,” Mr. Harrigan said. “I think it’s a civic responsibility to be involved and make people aware.”
Mr. Harrigan said this will be his third run for a commissioner seat, but he said he has only run when he feels the incumbent shouldn’t be in office.
Mr. Wallace, 40, has been on the board of commissioners for six years and has been a firefighter for 24 years, 12 in Wading River. He’s also been an EMT for 23 years, a hazardous materials technician and a member of the rescue dive team and the rapid intervention team, which stands by to rescue members of neighboring departments should they get trapped in a burning building.
Mr. Wallace has also worked as a licensed practical nurse in a doctor’s office for the past 15 years.
During his term on the board, the district has upgraded its water rescue and communications equipment, it has advanced life support trained personnel on all ambulance calls and has decreased its tax rate for the past two years and froze it three years ago, Mr. Wallace said. His nursing background also helped him to lower what the district was paying for physicals by about 70 percent, he said.
“I think I’ve done my job over the past six years,” he said.
Mr. Wallace said the district has not overtaxed residents in the past, as Mr. Harrigan suggested. He said a surplus is needed for emergencies, and that the district has not depleted its surplus.
Two uncontested elections will be held in Flanders, Joe Cavaluzzi will be running for a five year-term and David Schasfauer will run for a two-year term. Mr. Cavaluzzi was appointed to a vacancy two years ago when commissioner Arnold Vollmoeller stepped down.
Incumbent Bill Thum is not seeking re-election this year, so Mr. Cavaluzzi will instead run for that five-year term, while Mr.
Schasfauer will run unopposed for the remaining two years of the term Mr. Cavaluzzi will vacate.
Voting will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse on Firehouse Lane, off Flanders Road, in Flanders.
Incumbent Commissioner Ed Collins is running unopposed for re-election. Voting in Jamesport will be from 3 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse on Manor Lane in Jamesport.