South Fork residents can elect fire commissioners and vote on fire district budgets on Tuesday, December 9.
There are contested races for fire commissioner seats in Southampton and Bridgehampton this year.
In Southampton, where the five elected fire commissioners control only a small portion of the annual funding of the village-run Southampton Fire Department, former department chief Rodney “Chip” Pierson hopes to unseat current Commissioner David Price for a five-year term on the board.
Eligible residents of the district, which includes Shinnecock Hills, Tuckahoe and Water Mill, can cast ballots at the Tuckahoe School library on Magee Street from 5 to 9 p.m. Southampton Village residents are not eligible to vote.
Mr. Price, 54, has served as a fire commissioner since the board was first created 11 years ago and served as chief of the Southampton Fire Department in 1997 and 1998. For the past two years he has served as the chairman of the fire commissioners, and he has been the fire department safety officer for 10. Mr. Price also is a member of the fire police company, directing vehicle and pedestrian traffic at accident scenes.
Mr. Price also has a long family history with the Southampton Fire Department. He said his grandfather first joined the volunteer organization in 1914 and that since then, his great-uncle, father, brother, brother-in-law, and nephews all have signed up with the organization.
“I am still young enough and I have a clear head and a good eye for what is coming in the future,” Mr. Price said about why he wants to join the department. “The budget is a big part of our job and we are budgeting accordingly for the contracts and are working to protect our taxpayers in more way than one.”
Last week, Mr. Price said he still had unfinished business with the fire district, primarily in repairing the at times strained relationship with Southampton Village, which owns the fire department, including equipment like fire trucks, while the fire district raises taxes to pay the village for fire coverage. One of his primary goals if re-elected, he said, is to negotiate a new contract with the municipality next year that eases tension between the two groups.
“I want to hopefully continue to move forward negotiations with the village and the department to bring them together and heal old wounds,” Mr. Price said. “Time heals all wounds and with a little more time hopefully it will all be handled and we can move forward with the future of fire protection in the village and the entire district.”
When not working with the fire district, Mr. Price is the property manager for a private club in Southampton where he has overseen the restoration of the club and grounds. His work managing the project, and his fiscal conservancy, make him a good fire commissioner, he said.
Rodney Pierson, 42, hopes to unseat Mr. Price. Mr. Pierson joined the fire department in 1990 and has served as lieutenant, captain, and as chief from 2010 to 2012. Mr. Pierson was inspired to join by his family, as both his grandfather and father volunteered.
Mr. Pierson owns Squires and Pierson, a Southampton-based excavation firm he took over in 2003. He lives in Southampton with his wife, Amy, and two daughters, Sarah, 17, and Shelby, 15.
He said he thinks he will make a positive impact as a fire commissioner based on his experience with the department. Over the years, he said, he has become well acquainted with the department’s budget and budgeting process, and he said he has the best interest of taxpayers at heart.
“I have a good background in how everything works pertaining to the budget and the equipment,” Mr. Pierson said. “Fire commissioner is kind of a natural progression for me.”
Since he already has a history with the company, Mr. Pierson said he also wants to work on the relationship between the fire district and Southampton Village.
“One of my primary goals is to get a long-term solution with the village,” he said. “There are still a lot of problems, but it has made progress. The interior of the fire department, no one knows the ins and outs of the district and why they are here and how they can help us, it has all been defined in contracts so there is a lot of mistrust on both the village and the district’s sides, and from the department. That is something I want to dive into and see if we can straighten out.”
In Bridgehampton, two veteran members of the department’s ambulance corps—Philip Cammann and John O’Brien—are running for the single seat being vacated by Thomas Dombkowski. Earl Gandal is also running unopposed for district treasurer, a post held by Charles Butler for the last 30 years. Mr. Butler did not submit a candidate’s petition for re-election.
Both Mr. Cammann, who works as a paramedic, and Mr. O’Brien, a trained emergency medical technician, tout their experience with medical services. Both men serve on the Suffolk County Regional Emergency Medical Service Council, an advisory committee to county emergency services managers.
In 2015 the Bridgehampton Fire District has budgeted for the hiring of paid first responders to be on call with district ambulances for the first time.
Both commissioner candidates say the district and the fire commissioners need to greatly improve their communication with the members of the fire department and the Bridgehampton community as a whole.
Mr. Cammann has been a member of the department since 1980 and has served on the department’s ambulance corps for all of those years except for a nine-year period when he was living in Southampton and helped found the independent Southampton Ambulance Corps. He currently oversees the department’s ambulance crew training and runs its controlled substance program. He works as the supervisor of the paramedic team for the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance.
This will be Mr. Cammann’s second run for the commissioners board, which he says lacks representation from the ambulance corps membership.
“It’s important with any governing board that there is a cross-section of the people that they serve represented, and with 50 percent of the alarms being EMS calls, somebody on the board should have the working knowledge of all aspects of the ambulance service,” Mr. Cammann said. “Now that Bridgehampton is looking at hiring first responders, they need someone on that board with a working knowledge of setting up a first responder program and how to make it work with a hybrid of paid and volunteers. It’s not like hiring a bunch of guys to rake leaves.”
Mr. O’Brien has been a member of the fire department for 39 years. He has been chief of the department twice, in 1995-96 and again in 2001-04. Since 2000 he’s been a trained EMT.
An estate manager, he said he thinks his experience with both fire department members and the medical technicians suits him to a commissioner’s seat.
“I’ve worked with the board of commissioners extensively and I’ve done just about everything in the department there is to do,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The amount of medical calls we get puts a lot of stress on the volunteers. I’m a believer in getting a couple of paid reponsders. It’s worked in other places and I think it has got to go down here now too. We need it.”
Neither candidate was willing to weigh in on the drama that has surrounded the treasurer’s position. Current treasurer Charles Butler is nearing the end of what would appear to be his last term in the office. Last year the commissioners stripped Mr. Butler of his role as department secretary, as well as his $60,000 combined salary for the secretary and treasurer positions, based on accusations of poor bookkeeping and questions about his handling of small amounts of departmental funds.
Voting will take place at the Bridgehampton Fire Department headquarters on School Street from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In North Sea, Greg Robins, 64, is running uncontested to retain his seat as a fire commissioner.
Mr. Robins has been a member of the North Sea Fire Department for 22 years, and is seeking his fourth five-year term in office. A retired social studies teacher from the William Floyd School District, Mr. Robins is also an assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 58 in Southampton.
Mr. Robins has lived in Southampton for the 50 years with his wife, Linda, and has two adult sons, Clinton and Jarred.
He joined the fire commissioners to put his knowledge of creating a budget to use, he said. Mr. Robins said his goals are to finish the addition to the firehouse, which started earlier this year, and to get a new pumper truck for the department.
“We balance the needs of the fire district and the department with the needs of the taxpayers,” he said last week. “I think we have been reasonable in terms of how much we have spent and done.”
Voting will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Noyac Road firehouse.