10/02/14 4:00pm
10/02/2014 4:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Northampton Flanders Volunteer Ambulance Corps first responder Ronnie Hintze (left), driver Matt Deerkoski (center) and paramedic Marco Guecha take the accident 'victim' to an ambulance after it was removed from the car with the 'jaws of life' during a demonstration at the corps headquarters on Bell Avenue in Flanders Saturday afternoon. They enlisted one new member Saturday and three during the week.

Northampton Flanders Volunteer Ambulance Corps first responder Ronnie Hintze (left), driver Matt Deerkoski (center) and paramedic Marco Guecha handle an accident ‘victim’ to an ambulance during a demonstration at the corps headquarters in 2012. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

Local fire department and ambulance chiefs are praising recently signed legislation that protects volunteer firefighters and EMTs from losing their regular jobs for missing work while responding to disasters and crises.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law Sept. 23. The new law provides excused leave for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who are called away to help out during a state of emergency.

Those volunteers will be granted unpaid excused leave for the duration of their service during a declared state of emergency, according to the legislation.

Employers can request that volunteers provide them with documentation showing they are on the fire department roster and the protection can be withdrawn if the employer can prove that the volunteer’s absence would cause “undue hardship” to the business.

Still, some at North Fork fire departments said the law would provide peace of mind for seasoned volunteers and new members alike.

Cutchogue Fire Department Chief Antone Berkoski said some are “reluctant” to join the department.

“They want to help the community but they’re afraid to get fired or they don’t want to have to take the days [off],” he said. This new legislation may make it easier to recruit new members, he said.

Joseph Raynor, Riverhead Fire Department’s fire chief, called the bill “good legislation.”

“Why should [your job] be held in jeopardy when you’re helping out your community?” he asked. While it’s comforting to know his volunteers will have their jobs protected while answering emergencies, Mr. Raynor said most managers in town are understanding in times of crisis.

“Riverhead businesses are very good about it,” he said. “But when you have to run across the businessman who’s not friendly to the fire services, it’s good to protect the [firefighters].”

Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian also praised the new law.

“I think if you’re volunteering to help the community, you shouldn’t have to worry,” she said.

When contacted this week, Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance assistant chief Lisa Corwin said she hadn’t heard about the new law.

“We as volunteers want to be able to help when there is a disaster, and the last thing we should have to think about is how our job is going to be affected by volunteering to help others,” she said. “Fortunately, most of the members of RVAC are very dedicated, and whenever there is a crisis or threat of a big storm, we seem to have plenty of members to help the public, so this law will definitely help everyone.”

01/06/14 3:30pm
01/06/2014 3:30 PM

Wading_River_firehouseAfter getting the most calls it ever saw in a single calendar last year in 2012, the Wading River Fire Department got a little bit of relief in 2013. Well, barely.

The Wading River Fire Department answered 265 calls in 2013, just short of the 271 they responded to in 2012.

The numbers for the past three years are close, with 2011 seeing 262 fire department calls.

Wading River Fire Chief Jim Evans attributed the increase to population increases in the hamlet and some of the big winter storms that hit the area. The department also gets a lot of calls at Wildwood State Park in the summer, he said.

According to United States Census data, Wading River’s population jumped 15 percent — from 6,668 to 7,719 — in the years between 2000 and 2010.

The department’s Emergency Medical Service ambulance crews saw a two percent increase in the number of calls it received, responding to 803 calls, up from 784 the previous year, according to numbers supplied by Steve Donnelly, the Wading River Fire District secretary.

Mr. Evans said he believes that is also either a department record or close to it.

“Basically, people call the ambulance now more than in the past, and a lot of it is for minor things,” he said.

Like most fire departments, the bulk of the calls Wading River Fire Department responded to in 2013 were automatic alarms, according to the numbers. The department responded to 167 automatic alarm calls, according to the numbers.

“We have more businesses with automatic alarms now, and there are more people on cells who sometimes call in minor things,” Mr. Evans said.

The department responded to 32 structure fires in 2013, which was up from 27 in 2012, but down from the 43 structure fires reported in 2011.

Chief Evans said that number fluctuates from year to year, and not all of them turn out to be working structure fires, but they are called in as such.

The fire department also responded to 18 outside fires, 12 calls for assistance, nine gas leaks, 8 water rescues, six calls for burning wires, five vehicle fires, five vehicle fires, 3 calls responding to odors that might be fires, three smoke investigations, one extrications and one watercraft incident, according to department statistics.

For the Wading River EMS unit, calls for general sickness topped the list with 154 calls, followed by people having trouble breathing, with 111. Falls, at 88, and motor vehicle accidents, at 71, were next, followed by 61 calls for an unconscious person and 51 traumatic injuries.