The Wading River Fire District Thursday asked the Riverhead Town Board to take action against a group of Soundfront homeowners who have built a fence along the beach, claiming it is a hazard for first responders.
But the Town Board, which already is in litigation with those homeowners over that same issue, was advised by town attorney Bob Kozakiewciz to listen to, but not comment on, the fire district presentation because of the pending litigation.
The fire department referred to a July 18 brush fire on the bluff near the Little Flower Children’s Services as an example of the danger the fence poses for its volunteers.
Kevin McQueeney, third assistant chief of the Wading River Fire Department, led the response effort that day and said he first went to Little Flower and located the fire in the bluff area along the beach. The ladder going down to the beach was missing steps and had not been maintained, said the chief, so he determined the best way to fight the fire was from the beach, where firefighters could use water from the Sound .
But in doing so, they had to get around the fence erected by the homeowners there, said the fire department’s lawyer Salvatore Sapienza.
The homeowners have been in a dispute with the town over ownership of the area where the fences stand. They claim their deeds, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey boundaries for the mean high tide mark, show that the property in question is there’s.
But Supervisor Sean Walter, who did not attend Thursday’s Town Board work session due to a family emergency, has insisted that the public has a right to use that beach and that the fences are illegal.
Chief McQueeney said the trucks had to go around the fences to get to the brush fire that day and he had to let the air out of the tires on the district’s SUV in order to get through the sand to reach the fire. The department spent two and a half hours fighting the blaze, which was extinguished before damaging any property.
When the firefighters were finished, the tide had risen so that the trucks had to drive in the salt water to go around the fences, the chief added. The decision was then made to take down a small section of the fence so the trucks could get out.
The department didn’t damage the fence and put it back up when they left, he said.
Mr. Sapienza said that going around the fence delayed the response time. He said the homeowner who put up the fence was “not cooperative, to say the least.”
Jim Csorny, the homeowner who put up the fence and one of the homeowners who sued the town on the beach access issue, previously told the News-Review at the time that there was no need to take down the fence because there was no emergency after the fire was extinguished. Mr. Csorny, who is a retired New York City firefighter, described the removal as a “cowardly act.”
His wife, Amy Csorny, told the News-Review Thursday that both she and a neighbor filmed the entire incident, and that video shows the emergency workers were able to get past her fence in both directions without any problem.
“I have videotape of them being able to access the eastern portion of the beach without taking down my fence,” Ms. Csorny said. “I have videotape of their vehicle going east, west and east again on July 18. I’ve given the tape to my lawyer.”
But Mr. Sapienza maintains that a delay in response time could lead to a fire getting out of control and burning down someone’s house.
“There has to be be a way to ensure that the entity that provides fire and rescue protection to the resident in the area has the ability to provide those services,” he said.
“We don’t want to trample anybody’s property rights … but we have to do what we have to do to protect those people’s lives.”