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Better Fire Protection at What Cost: Study Suggests 10 Muni District

Fire protection could increase significantly if the Village of Larchmont were to form a consolidated fire district with nine other municipalities in Southern Westchester, as suggested by a study released Wednesday, July 1 by the Michaelian Institute of Pace University. Costs to local taxpayers, however, are difficult to assess without further research.

The study examined fire departments and districts in Eastchester, Fairview, Greenville, Hartsdale, Larchmont (Village), Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Pelham, Pelham Manor, and Scarsdale. It found none consistently compliant with the highly respected standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The study shows how the municipalities could reach NFPA compliance by:

  • forming a consolidated district;
  • hiring 178 more firefighters and officers and 50 more civilian employees; and
  • off-setting the additional $22.9 million in annual costs with a potential $14 million to $47 million annual savings in homeowner and business insurance premiums

What Would Happen in Larchmont?

In Larchmont, the study proposes to increase typical coverage from 2 firefighters and one officer to 6 firefighters and 2 officers. In the event of a fire, 16 firefighters and 6 officers would respond from several fire stations. Larchmont would also respond to some locations in New Rochelle. Larchmont Village Hall would require modifications to accommodate the expanded force.

There would be similar reconfigurations and assignments across all ten communities. Each community would have more firefighters stationed locally and a faster response from adjacent stations.

Meeting the NFPA Standard

A consolidated district, as outlined in the study,  would bring Larchmont and the other communities in compliance with NFPA standard 1710 for an all-paid staff. This requires arrival of a fire engine to the scene of an alarm within 4 minutes, and arrival of at least 22 equipped firefighters within 8 minutes.

NFPA standard 1720 for a combined paid-volunteer department in a densely populated area like Larchmont requires having 15 firefighters arrive within 9 minutes.

Today, Larchmont cannot consistently comply with either NFPA 1710 or 1720, standards which are desirable but not required by federal or state regulations. To meet the 1710 standard without consolidation, according to the study, would require Larchmont to hire 79 additional staff: 11 firefighters and 4 officers per shift or 58 more firefighters and 21 additional officers overall.

What Happens to Property Taxes?

Firefighting personnel costs would go from $88.1 million per year, the current aggregate in the 10 municipalities based on 2006 budgets, to $111 million for the consolidated district. This would pay for 178 additional firefighters. Tax payers might see a cut in their municipal taxes, as fire protection costs are removed, but they would pay a new fire district tax.

Estimating impacts of consolidation on local property taxes would require additional analyses of tax rolls that were beyond the scope of this study, according to Michael A. Genito, the study’s director.

However, these impacts could be large. In the new district, Larchmont would be more than 4% of the tax base. But its current firefighting budget is less than 2.5% of what the ten communities currently spend.  Since fire districts are financed by district-wide property tax assessments, Larchmont’s 2.5% share of $88.1 million  could jump to more than 4% of $111 million. This could double what Larchmonters pay for fire protection.

How About Insurance Savings?

The study estimates potential insurance premium savings – as much as $47 million per year – if there are:

  • improvements in each municipality’s public protection classification (PPC) from the Insurance Service Office (ISO), and
  • changes in state rules about how ISO ratings are applied, and
  • decisions by insurance companies to reduce the fire insurance premiums due to improved ratings.

Larchmont, for example, has a PPC#3. Consolidation, according to the study, would result in an initial upgrade to PPC#2, with a potential fire insurance premium reduction of 8%. There could be an additional improvement to PPC#1 and an additional insurance reduction of 8%. For Larchmont commercial and residential properties overall, the study estimates savings between $328,210 and $971,205 per year.

However, under the current New York State classification system, PPC ratings from 1 to 3 are often lumped together into a top tier. Josh Mandell, Larchmont’s newest trustee and fire commissioner, pointed to this anomaly and noted, “I’m not sure the fire insurance savings would be enjoyed by Larchmont residents.”

Mr. Mandell concluded, “The study succeeds in proving one of its goals – that a consolidated effort could significantly improve service provided to the communities in the study group. But without knowing the cost to our tax payers, I must reserve judgment.”

Local Leaders: Cautious, Critical

Mayor Liz Feld said she “appreciated all the hard work” but it was premature to comment on the study without additional information on service and tax implications. Also, while recognizing that the study proposes consolidation of some existing districts, she was ”notionally” opposed to the creation of “new districts that create another level of government with bonding and taxing authority.”

Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, on the other hand, blasted the study. “I see this as an anti-volunteer department effort because it is limited to places that have a paid chief, ” she said. ”This came from the paid fire chiefs, and we don’t have a paid chief.”

(The Westchester Career Fire Chiefs sponsored the study with funds obtained from the New York State Legislature. Larchmont only became part of the study after it hired a paid chief in 2006. Mamaroneck Town was not part of the study, nor was Mamaroneck Village, which has only volunteer firefighters.)

The impact of consolidation on volunteer firefighters is among the subjects Mayor Feld said needs more analysis.

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38 comments to Better Fire Protection at What Cost: Study Suggests 10 Muni District

  • Michael

    There’s lots of talk about consolidation in Larchmont lately, but is there any truth to the rumor that the consolidated SWAT team that Larchmont and Mamaroneck had for a few years has been disbanded due to its cost?

  • LANCE

    When the cops and firemen make more than 35% of the town residents the people will wake up. LANCE

  • Steven Morvay

    Impossible to assess report as there appears to be no part that identifies issues to be assessed. What’s “broken” that needs to be fixed?

  • Christopher

    A key issue relating to the current staffing of the Larchmont Fire Department was not mentioned in this article. According to the referenced study, Fire Services of Southern Westchester County: A Case for Consolidation, “Under Department of Labor Law (29CFR1910.134) the current manning makes it illegal for LFD firefighters to enter a burning structure until additional firefighters (recalled, volunteer or mutual aid) arrive at the incident.”

    It is also important to note that the study presented two staffing options for a consolidated fire district that would meet the NFPA 1710 standard. Only the first option would require hiring an additional 179 firefighters, a model where no overtime would be needed. The second option would meet NFPA 1710 with the currently approved roster of 604 positions.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Firefighting personnel costs would go from $88.1 million per year, …to $111 million for the consolidated district.”

    That is only if the less desirable manning system was implemented. It was suggested that the preferred staffing was $16.6 million less.

    “In the new district, Larchmont would be more than 4% of the tax base. But its current firefighting budget is less than 2.5% of what the ten communities currently spend. Since fire districts are financed by district-wide property tax assessments, Larchmont’s 2.5% share of $88.1 million could jump to more than 4% of $111 million. This could double what Larchmonters pay for fire protection.”

    It is premature to claim this could double what Larchmont pays (since an accurate financial study has yet to be done). Since it is calculated on the highest cost proposal, which was not recommended. In the budget year(s) studied Larchmont spent more than 2.5% of the total proposed. It is also unclear if Larchmont which is less than 0.5% of the total land area would pay 4% (Acknowledging its high end homes, may not overcome the large commercial buildings and total volume of high end buildings in many areas of this study).

  • Barry Nechis

    “Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, on the other hand, blasted the study. “I see this as an anti-volunteer department effort because it is limited to places that have a paid chief, ” she said. ”This came from the paid fire chiefs, and we don’t have a paid chief.””

    If this were an anti volunteer effort, it would have eliminated the volunteers from 7 of the 10 departments, instead of expanding the opportunities for volunteer participation. The career chiefs discussed allowing other departments (those without career chiefs) and felt that any department that had a contiguous border with a community in the study could be examined and brought in at a later time if they wished, but there was only so much that could be looked at this time and that is where the line was drawn. If the Town of Mamaroneck would like to be included, all they have to do is ask.

    The career chiefs have a responsibility to protect the communities they are chiefs in and to say that failing to include communities that they are not responsible for is anti volunteer is unfair.

    “The impact of consolidation on volunteer firefighters is among the subjects Mayor Feld said needs more analysis.”

    As was clearly stated in the study.

  • Ned Benton

    Mr. Nechis is one of the authors of the study. His comments therefore deserve attention. Unfortunately, both comments are inaccurate.

    Larchmont Will Experience Tax Increases Due to Consolidated Financing:

    Even if the new district didn’t cost a nickel more than the ten districts it would consolidate, the cost to Larchmont Village property taxpayers would rise 60%. As the Gazette article states: “In the new district, Larchmont would be more than 4% of the tax base. But its current firefighting budget is less than 2.5% of what the ten communities currently spend.”

    Since fire districts are financed by district-wide property tax assessments, not per-mile or per-capita as Mr. Nechis speculates, Larchmont’s 2.5% share of the current costs would jump to more than 4% of the combined cost – a 60% increase.

    Larchmont Will Also Experience Cost Increases Due to Hiring Additional Firefighters:

    But, in addition to the cost increases due to the financing, costs will jump an additional 26% because the new district will spend more than the current spending of the ten districts.

    The study recommends increasing firefighter duty assignments, or the minimum staffing on a shift, from about 103 to 140, by adding 37 duty assignments: Eastchester: +7, Fairview: +3, Greeneville: +2, Hartsdale: +6, Larchmont: +5, Mount Vernon: +1, New Rochelle: +1, Pelham: +1, Pelham Manor: +8, Scarsdale: +3. Each of these duty assignments has to be staffed 24 hours 365 days per year, which requires hiring about five firefighters for each assignment. On page 163 of the study, the salary-plus-fringe benefits cost of one firefighter is calculated to be $129,139 per year, so each of these new duty assignments will require about $129,139 for each of five firefighters, or about $646,000 each year. All 37 will cost about $23.9 million annually.

    The study applies two methods to estimate the cost of the additional 37 duty assignments. As a professor of public management, I am familiar with the two methods. Normally they achieve the same cost results because the methods are two rules-of-thumb to calculate the cost of same scheduling situation. The first method covers vacation and leave with additional firefighters; the second method covers vacation and leave with overtime. The fact that in this study the results are divergent raises a red flag for me.

    The first option assumes that 5.25 firefighter positions are needed to cover each 24-hour 365-day assignment. If we multiply the 37 assignments by 5.25 by $129,139, the additional cost is $25.1 million. This is reasonably consistent with the study estimates, and my own estimate above.

    The second option assumes that 4 firefighter positions are needed to cover each 24-hour 365-day assignment, plus a 20% overtime allowance. If we multiply the 37 assignments by 4, then by $129,139 and then factor in the 20% for overtime, the additional cost is $22.9 million. Again this is reasonably close to my own estimate above.

    But the study suggests that the additional cost of the second option – achieving the same minimum staffing – is only $6.3 million, which is financially and managerially impossible.

    On page 192 the report says, in explaining Option 2: “The contractual time off that needs to be covered is not calculated in this model. It would need to be covered with overtime.” This apparently means that in the second-option cost analysis, the cost of essential overtime to fully cover the duty assignments was omitted entirely. For the 140 duty assignments this represents $14.5 million which must be included for the option to be compared with the costs of Option 1 or the current costs.

    Option 2 is not less expensive; it’s less accurate.

  • Surprised

    I am surprised that a study premised on a scenario that nobody asks for (creation of a super-district of 10 communities, how realistic is this ?) is now taking a life of its own, shifting focus from lower-scale efforts where 2 (let’s start with two – let’s walk before we run) districts are combined, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead and management. Or maybe, I am not surprised, that the sooner change is asked for, the sooner it is shot down with statistics. Let the status quo reign then, until it becomes unsustainable.

  • Anon E Mous

    Perhaps one of the most important contribution of the study is that it has gotten the attention of the people of the County and has them talking about a serious issue. Now if only our municipal officials will take seriously the need to consider the study, facts and assumptions, and then expediently determine the best ways to provide for this and other services in Westchester County. Let’s not wait for the emergencies that can be caused by burst bubbles.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Larchmont Will Experience Tax Increases Due to Consolidated Financing”

    A very strong statement and very premature, since as we have stated a true comprehensive financial study still needs to be done.

    “As the Gazette article states: “In the new district, Larchmont would be more than 4% of the tax base.”

    Not according to the figures that we were given by the assessors.

    “As a professor of public management, I am familiar with the two methods. Normally they achieve the same cost results because the methods are two rules-of-thumb to calculate the cost of same scheduling situation……… The fact that in this study the results are divergent raises a red flag for me.”

    You should contact the majority of career depts. that have found this to be incorrect, including 6 of the depts. in this study and at least a dozen in Fairfield Ct. This is mostly because of the additional benefits are greater than the overtime costs. The departments that we studied showed at least a $10,000 per man per year savings after paying the overtime. It is good that it raises a red flag, it did for us also, until we found out what was happening in the field.

    “The second option assumes that 4 firefighter positions are needed to cover each 24-hour 365-day assignment, plus a 20% overtime allowance. If we multiply the 37 assignments by 4, then by $129,139 and then factor in the 20% for overtime, the additional cost is $22.9 million. Again this is reasonably close to my own estimate above. But the study suggests that the additional cost of the second option – achieving the same minimum staffing – is only $6.3 million, which is financially and managerially impossible.”

    Since you are assuming that we would need to hire 37 x 4 (148) then you would be correct. But since 70% of the current staffing does not receive overtime and a number of the staff positions become redundant we were very comfortable staffing without hiring the numbers you suggest.

    I thank you for giving me all the math credit, but my role was to evaluate the service levels needed to meet minimum standards for protecting life and property. The financial preview was prepared by financial experts at Pace University.

    “On page 192 the report says, in explaining Option 2: “The contractual time off that needs to be covered is not calculated in this model. It would need to be covered with overtime.” This apparently means that in the second-option cost analysis, the cost of essential overtime to fully cover the duty assignments was omitted entirely. For the 140 duty assignments this represents $14.5 million which must be included for the option to be compared with the costs of Option 1 or the current costs. Option 2 is not less expensive; it’s less accurate.”

    Yes it was not calculated, it was overestimated, we know how much each dept. averages for contractual time off and how often this would result in overtime. We stated 20% as a clean number until a more detailed financial analysis could be completed that looked at what the maximum contractual time could be (even if it is not currently used). Our basic numbers found it was around 17 or 18% so we rounded up to 20%.

    You have made a lot of financial assumptions, that again are a little premature, just wait, if the communities feel there is merit in the levels of service which currently can not be met in any of the 10 communities in the study or any other community in Westchester (except Yonkers) then a serious look at the financials will be done.

    A critical question will always be what will it cost, but the first question has to be can the fire department do what the community expects of it when they dial 911.

  • Barry Nechis

    “I am surprised that a study premised on a scenario that nobody asks for (creation of a super-district of 10 communities, how realistic is this ?) is now taking a life of its own, shifting focus from lower-scale efforts where 2 (let’s start with two – let’s walk before we run) districts are combined, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead and management.”

    The chiefs that were hired to protect 55% of the county’s population are the ones who asked for it along with the firefighters in those communities. While the study only covers 25% of the population each of those chief’s had to get approval from either an elected board or a Manager that must answer to an elected board. The other communities felt that this was not the right time for them, but they still supported and assisted in this study as they still felt it was in the best interest of everyone to find out if this could solved the horrendous under manning that we see in almost every fire department in Westchester.

    While combining 2 is simpler, can the two districts meet the standards? If not then what is wrong with trying to establish a larger department that can?

    We found hundreds of county size departments that were created by merging dozens of depts. together and they all work very well. Since this has been in the works for almost three years, is it shifting the focus of smaller efforts or are those efforts too little and too late?

  • notsurprised

    “The chiefs that were hired to protect 55% of the county’s population are the ones who asked for it along with the firefighters in those communities.[...] they still supported and assisted in this study as they still felt it was in the best interest of everyone to find out if this could solved the horrendous under manning that we see in almost every fire department in Westchester”
    Exactly – and the unions are running government, and the healthcare providers are running the health system. NO wonder it is expensive and inefficient. Now, regarding the horrendous undermanning, can we compare it to safety RESULTS (not the best possible imaginable standards of one FF watching every house 24/7). Are we in horrendous risk here ? on the contrary, we are probably over-equipped compared to the rest of the world, including countries as unlivable as Western Europe, where the response time is minutes, not seconds. The anti-spam word is “action”, but don’t forget the goal here : saving money. If the goal was : increase staff or better standards, I would agree with the inmates running the jail. But that is not the goal here, Barry. Ponder this , for instance, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/nyregion/08pension.html?_r=1&hpw.

  • Mike

    On a point of order, whilst NFPA standards are not ‘compulsory’ unless directly incorporated into law, they can be, have been, and will be used by attorneys to destroy defendants cases and prove liability in both civil and criminal courts. Don’t pass them over lightly as being merely ‘desirable’.

  • Ned Benton

    The study asserts that we can increase the round-the-clock minimum firefighter staffing for the ten communities by 37, and it asserts that it will cost us practically nothing. This notion defies common sense and basic mathematics.

    The study proposes to increase the minimum coverage across the districts by 37 firefighters – from 103 to 140. Each of these 37 additional duty assignments has to be staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – that’s 8,760 hours per year. Since a typical firefighter works about 1,800 hours year before overtime, it takes about 4.9 firefighters (8,760 hours divided by 1,800 work-hours per firefighter) to cover each duty assignment. The report states on page 161 that the average cost of a firefighters across the ten agencies is $128,139 including fringe benefits, so each additional duty assignment would cost 4.9 times $128,139, or $627,881 each. All 37 posts would cost an additional $23.2 million – that’s 37 times $627,881.

    But the study proposes “Option 2″ which would cover the 37 additional duty assignments with the existing roster of positions. How can this be possible?

    Under Option 2, the study estimates the number of firefighters needed to staff each duty assignment by allocating 4 firefighters for each assignment, which at 1,800 hours per year covers 7,200 of the 8,760 hours to be covered – 1,560 hours short. The rest of the hours would be covered with overtime – each firefighter would need to work an additional 370 hours annually to make up for the 1,560 hours. This allows the report to claim, on page 3, that the option makes it possible to staff the additional duty assignments with the existing roster of firefighter positions. This is highly deceptive because it leaves out the huge costs of the overtime, during which the firefighters are paid at least 50% above their standard wage.

    But even if the overtime was to be factored into the cost estimate, would the approach be less expensive? This is the $23 million question.

    Based on state and federal fringe benefit rules, using overtime to fill out the schedule would probably cost more than hiring the right number of firefighters in the first place. The study reports (p. 161) that in 2006 the 10 agencies spent $51.6 million on salaries and $28.8 million on benefits, so that benefits represent a 56% overhead on salaries. But in Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck, benefits represent more like a 40% overhead on salaries. So at least locally, we know that time-and-a-half overtime is generally more expensive than regular compensation with the standard benefits.

    But isn’t the 50% overhead of time-and-a-half overtime less than the 56% fringe benefit overhead reported in the study? The answer is no, because employers have to pay some fringe benefit costs on overtime earnings such as FICA taxes and pension contributions – at least another 10% – so the 50% overtime overhead looks more like 60%

    If the overtime costs more than hiring the right number of firefighters in the first place, then the Option 2 savings claimed in the study don’t really exist. The additional 37 duty assignments will cost at least $23.2 million, which means that the new districts will cost 26% more than the ten districts cost separately.

    Now let’s examine Mr. Nechis’ arguments as to why the purported savings might actually be real. One argument is that that the savings would occur when the overtime model of schedule management is applied to the existing duty stations, which he describes as redundant. If the redundancies exist, the greatest savings would come from applying the most efficient scheduling model to staffing the most necessary duty assignments. If the overtime approach costs more than the standard approach, it should not be used.

    Another claim is that “departments we studied saved $10,000 per man” using the overtime approach. Assuming for purposes of analysis that this is true, this level of savings would account for only $5-6 million in savings if it was applied to all of the currently employed firefighters. It simply does not explain the huge savings – $20.2 million – that are purported to be possible.

    Finally, there is the claim that that 6 of the departments in the study already have “found this to be correct.” Presumably this means that they have adopted this idea. If they have, how can we recapture the savings a second time? Of course if they haven’t adopted the idea, why not? Why wait for consolidation to implement the idea?

    The answer is that such extensive use of overtime probably won’t save money, and may create other problems – like exhausted firefighters responding to alarms while being forced to work double and triple shifts.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Now, regarding the horrendous undermanning, can we compare it to safety RESULTS… Are we in horrendous risk here? on the contrary, we are probably over-equipped compared to the rest of the world, including countries as unlivable as Western Europe, where the response time is minutes, not seconds.”

    The United States has the undisputed worst record for fire loss (both property and life) of all of the industrial nations. We have held that record for over 50 years (we are #1). Yes in Westchester we are very over equipped…but under manned. FIRE TRUCKS DO NOT PUT OUT FIRES….FIREFIGHTERS DO.

    The entire issue of this study was can we provide the proper manning by reducing the number of vehicles that are undermanned. Since you would like to compare us to Western Europe…lets look. In Great Britton (England, Scotland, Wales, No.Ireland) National Law requires a minimum manning of 5 firefighters and an officer on a pump (engine). This is required of both career and volunteer (they call them retaineded). The entire fire service in G.B. was consolidated from 450+ depts. down to 50 over 60 years ago. I spent some time studying their system at the Fire service college at morton-on-marsh.

    Here we are asking for 3 firefighters and an officer (how dare we). In France they run heavy and light pumps. The Heavy units run with 5 firefighters 2 Jr officers and a commander (the light ones are staffed with what we are asking for). Most other countries are similar. Amazing but the standards for response times we are looking for are what they have been providing for 60 years. Maybe that’s one reason we have so much loss compared to them. The safety results are the national underwriters actuarial tables that go back to the Great Baltimore fire (1904) and prove that yes in this country we are at great risk and we pay for this risk in many ways.

    Can you tell us what department can respond with 4 firefighters (or more or less) within seconds?

    “The anti-spam word is “action”, but don’t forget the goal here: saving money. If the goal was: increase staff or better standards, I would agree with the inmates running the jail. But that is not the goal here.”

    It is clear to me that you have not read the study, the article or even the letters since the goal of the study was how to provide sufficient firefighters that meet standards set by NFPA (they write most of the standards for building codes, the electrical codes and other safety codes), ISO (the insurance industry), the ICMA (International City /County Managers Association) and NYS and Federal Laws (29CFR1910.134). Once we determined what was needed to meet these standards we looked to see if it would save money, cost more money or be the same. The goal of this study was never about saving money, that’s why we always have said that detailed financial work would still be needed.

    If this was truly about “saving money” let’s not have fire depts. or police depts., let’s stop plowing roads or picking up garbage. Eliminate local governments is the cry to save money, but that means reducing service.

    Most people would rather not think about the fire department, just reduce my taxes, right up until they are dialing 911 and hoping that they have a properly trained, properly staffed, properly equipped fire dept. that will arrived quickly and resolve any and all problems.

  • Mike

    Barry, if you’re going to compare US and UK fire services I would draw your attention to the following:

    1. The structure of the fire service in the UK is largely a legacy of WW2, during which it was consolidated – nationalised, effectively – into a single national fire service. After WW2 it reorganised at the county level, and there have been mergers since then, currently leaving 55 ‘brigades’ or departments, none smaller than an entire county.

    2. Retained firefighters in the UK aren’t volunteers in the sense that most Americans would understand; they’re paid an annual retainer, plus pay for training time and going on calls, each firefighter has contractually-obliged response levels, and they can join the union – they’re regarded as part-time career firefighters, and they are the backbone of the UK system outside the cities and largest towns. There are only a tiny number of pure unpaid volunteers in the very remotest areas. I personally think it’s an excellent system.

    3. As we’ve recently discussed, the BIG difference between firefighting in the UK and the USA is building construction; there’s far, far, less timber construction in the UK, and this makes a significant difference in terms of life safety, and firefighting tactics and results. I suspect that has as much to do with the actuarial table results you mention as fire department organisation.

  • Ned Benton

    I’ll be the first to admit that we have a problem in Larchmont Village. Since the reorganization, the fire department lacks the paid staff to meet NFPA 1710 (the standard for all-paid fire departments) and lacks the volunteers to meet NFPA 1720 (the standard for substantially-volunteer departments.) Something has to be done.

    But the Michaelian study does not persuade me that Larchmont should join the consolidated fire district the study proposes.

    There are three financial problems with the study.

    First, the cost estimates are inaccurate. The real cost of adding the recommended additional duty assignments will range between $22 and $25 million, not $6 million.

    Second, consolidating the finances of the ten communities into one district would have adverse consequences for Larchmont. Our share of the combined budget would be 60% more than what we pay separately now.

    Third, the insurance rate savings are unlikely. When Larchmont’s ISO rating went from 4 to 3 in the late 1990s, our fire insurance rates didn’t go down. The insurance companies don’t have to base rates on ISO ratings.

    Mr. Nechis is correct, however, that if there were a compelling safety consideration, it might outweigh the additional costs. However, I’m not persuaded that the study makes the case that Larchmont faces a safety risk that warrants the extreme remedies that it recommends.

    The report presents NFPA 1710 as an all-or-nothing requirement. Mr. Nechis apparently thinks that anything less than fully adopting the report’s recommendations is “horrendous understaffing.”

    But the report doesn’t analyze how the departments are currently doing relative to the 1710 standard of performance. For example, in what percent of major fires did the departments provide an engine and four trained and equipped firefighters within four minutes? How many firefighters were typically available within 8 minutes? This information is readily available in the 60-control dispatch records. Maybe we’re a lot closer to meeting the standard than the report implies.

    Why does the report completely ignore NFPA standard 1720 – the standard for departments fully or partly staffed by volunteers. If NFPA is the authority for the study’s recommendations, why does the report pick and choose which standards to apply?

    Why doesn’t the study examine whether mutual aid system can be improved? For example, if Larchmont won’t immediately call in the nearby Town of Mamaroneck Fire District for fire scene mutual aid, and instead calls in departments that are further away, is this a mutual aid problem or a management problem?

    My view is that the better choice for Larchmont is to join the Town of Mamaroneck Fire District. I think that a review of 60-control dispatch records would reveal that this excellent firefighting service consistently delivers an engine and four qualified firefighters within 4 minutes. With more than 50 active and qualified volunteer firefighters, and an effective working relationship with the Village of Mamaroneck Fire Department, it has the capacity to deliver 22 firefighters to a working fire scene within 8 minutes. As a combination volunteer/career fire department, TMFD comes under NFPA 1720, but it has the capacity to match many of the performance expectations applied in Michaelian study.

    Best of all, joining the TMFD is a better financial choice for Larchmont. Property taxes for fire protection would be reduced across 10538.

  • Barry Nechis

    “I’ll be the first to admit that we have a problem in Larchmont Village. Since the reorganization, the fire department lacks the paid staff to meet NFPA 1710 (the standard for all-paid fire departments) and lacks the volunteers to meet NFPA 1720 (the standard for substantially-volunteer departments.) Something has to be done.”

    Larchmont Fire Dept. has never and will never meet 1710 as it would require approximately 60 additional career firefighters. It is possible that it could have met 1720 but we will never know because of the number of volunteers that quit LFD.

    “But the Michaelian study does not persuade me that Larchmont should join the consolidated fire district the study proposes.”

    You have made it clear that your only concern has been money, you have published at least a half dozen studies about LFD and money. But none talk about levels of service. The Michaelian study was designed to look at levels of service and admitted that the financials were only cursory and that a serious high level financial study still needs to be done. So maybe everyone else should wait till there is a full set of facts.

    “There are three financial problems with the study.”
    See above.

    “Mr. Nechis is correct, however, that if there were a compelling safety consideration, it might outweigh the additional costs. However, I’m not persuaded that the study makes the case that Larchmont faces a safety risk that warrants the extreme remedies that it recommends.”

    So the Michaelian study, which admitted more work is needed is extreme, but your “studies” that call for the elimination of LFD is not extreme?

    “The report presents NFPA 1710 as an all-or-nothing requirement. Mr. Nechis apparently thinks that anything less than fully adopting the report’s recommendations is “horrendous understaffing.”

    Now in the 1st line of this response you said they do not have the staffing to meet 1710. Actually, we presented NFPA 1710, ISO, ICMA and NYS DOL PESH 29CFR1910.134 as standards and under all of them LFD does not meet any of them. Does the Town of Mamaroneck meet them? For ISO TMFD needs 30 volunteers responding to every fire call when “code 2” is in effect and 27 volunteers when “code 3” is in effect. Have you ever responded to a fire with a report of people trapped? What about an apartment building fire? If you have, you would know how poorly almost every department in Westchester is.

    “But the report doesn’t analyze how the departments are currently doing relative to the 1710 standard of performance.”

    We did not “analyze it because LFD fails to meet all of the requirements.

    “For example, in what percent of major fires did the departments provide an engine and four trained and equipped firefighters within four minutes? How many firefighters were typically available within 8 minutes? This information is readily available in the 60-control dispatch records.”

    None of those items are what the standards requires, you need to reread the standard before commenting on it. 60 control does not maintain any records on how many firefighters respond and they only record the response time for the 1st arriving vehicle, so if the chief arrives 1st, their clock stops.

    More importantly 60 control does not record any times for departments that it does not dispatch. I would think with all the time you have spent studying the Larchmont Fire Department you would have known that 60 Control does not dispatch or document anything for LFD.

    “Maybe we’re a lot closer to meeting the standard than the report implies.”

    If LFD hires another 58-60 firefighters (which is not likely) then they will be a lot closer. Either you meet NFPA standards or you do not. It is kind of like saying doing 75mph in 55 zone is close to being legal.

    “Why does the report completely ignore NFPA standard 1720 – the standard for departments fully or partly staffed by volunteers. If NFPA is the authority for the study’s recommendations, why does the report pick and choose which standards to apply?”

    Because the 10 department studied have 599 career and about 150 volunteers, both 1710 and 1720 say with that mix we need to follow 1710. The report did not pick and choose, we followed the standards as written. We also followed other standards (ISO, ICMA and DOL) which you keep ignoring, why?

    “Why doesn’t the study examine whether mutual aid system can be improved?”

    Did you even read the report? The chiefs wanted the report because collectively they agreed that mutual aid does not work and that was clearly documented in the study.

    “For example, if Larchmont won’t immediately call in the nearby Town of Mamaroneck Fire District for fire scene mutual aid, and instead calls in departments that are further away, is this a mutual aid problem or a management problem?”

    Could the same be said if TMFD drives past LFD’s fire station (and even into New Rochelle) to get to parts of the town. Now I do not know if this still goes on, but it did for many decades.

    “My view is that the better choice for Larchmont is to join the Town of Mamaroneck Fire District.”

    You have made that clear, the question that Larchmont needs to ask is what level of service will they receive? And the residence of the town need to ask how will this benefit them? This is not saying anything negative about TMFD, just since your “studies” have never talked about service levels.

    “I think that a review of 60-control dispatch records would reveal that this excellent firefighting service consistently delivers an engine and four qualified firefighters within 4 minutes.”

    Professor, before staking ones professional reputation (and since you’ve pointed out many times that you teach this)….you should know what records (service levels) 60 control provides.

    “With more than 50 active and qualified volunteer firefighters, and an effective working relationship with the Village of Mamaroneck Fire Department, it has the capacity to deliver 22 firefighters to a working fire scene within 8 minutes. As a combination volunteer/career fire department, TMFD comes under NFPA 1720, but it has the capacity to match many of the performance expectations applied in Michaelian study.”

    In your next study, I suggest you focus on service levels, you need to publish the training levels, the number of responders that are interior qualified (& are willing to go into a burning building) and the actual numbers of responders that arrive in the times you specify. And not just for working fires, the requirement is for all fire calls, since once you determine it’s a working it is too late.

    “Best of all, joining the TMFD is a better financial choice for Larchmont. Property taxes for fire protection would be reduced across 10538.”

    One of your studies showed that Larchmont taxpayers would save 17% by eliminating the LFD and not upgrading TMFD, if we look at LFD & TMFD as relatively equal that would be a 50% service reduction to save 17%.

    I am not knocking TMFD, I was a member, I have taught many classes there and consider many of the officers and firefighters (both career and volunteers) to be my friends. And if you want to do a true comparison of service levels I would be more than happy to work on that with you. If it’s just about money, then maybe Larchmont needs to dissolve the whole village, not just the fire department.

  • TryingtoCatchUp

    I’m sorry, just trying to catch up, Mr. Benechis, what is your background and how did you become a key part of this survey?

  • planet

    Excuse-me, from which planet is our wise person coming ? Larchmont has 6300 inhabitants or about and one square mile and not a lot of tall buildings or dangerous installations and the standard recommends 60 extra firefighters ? 1% of the population will work for the LFD if we want to abide by the standard ? where does the standard-setter come from ? union heaven ? howmany FF does NYC city (8Mio inhabitants) need then ? 80,000 ?

  • Ned Benton

    Let’s start by summarizing what Mr. Nechis and I seem to agree about, with a focus on what it means for Larchmont.

    1. We agree that consolidation of fire services is a good way to improve quality, efficiency, and cost. We might disagree over the best combinations of agencies and communities, but we are on the same page about consolidation as the right general strategy, and as the right strategy for Larchmont.

    2. We agree that Larchmont does not meet NFPA 1710 and NYS DOL PESH 29CFR1910.134. Mr. Nechis also seems to be saying that LFD does not meet 1720 because of the loss of volunteers, and I concur with that. (I don’t know what he means by saying that Larchmont does not meet ISO – LFD has the highest rating it is eligible for – but I would agree that Larchmont is at risk of a downgrade the next time ISO visits.) We agree that Larchmont should not continue the way it is.

    3. We agree that the financial side of the Michaelian study is, to use Mr. Nechis’ expression, “cursory.” We agree that the financial and cost aspects of the report are not ready to be a basis for decision making. I would go on to say that the Option 2 analysis is flatly inaccurate, but we can agree to disagree about that.

    4. We seem to agree that mutual aid is not working well in Larchmont. Mr. Nechis’ comment about TMFD driving past LFD to serve some parts of the town is – unfortunately – still true, and is one more reason for consolidation of TMFD and LFD. Under the Michaelian study, TMFD would continue to drive through parts of the new district to get to areas of the town on the other side.

    5. We agree that improving safety is important. We agree that NFPA 1710 is the right standard for the larger communities in the report. But I believe that – for Larchmont – we should meet NFPA 1720, and exceed it in one respect – a 4-minute initial response time consistent with NFPA 1710. We can agree to disagree about this, but I don’t think my position is imprudent.

    6. We’re both concerned about cost. The Michealian study trumpets huge savings in projected insurance premiums and operating costs based on more use of overtime. My study, limited to 10538 issues, estimates that fire protection property taxes in the Village of Larchmont could be cut in half. Being concerned about cost is a virtue not a vice. Being correct about costs is also a virtue.

    Now let’s review some areas where we seem to disagree.

    1. Mr. Nechis misunderstands what I recommend about consolidating LFD into TMFD. Just in case there is confusion over what I am saying, I have posted a copy of my most recent study at the following website:

    http://nbenton.us/LFD10538.pdf

    I disagree with Mr. Nechis’ assertion that consolidation would result in a 50% reduction in coverage. By Mr. Nechis’ logic – that merging two agencies into one results in at 50% reduction in service – the Michaelian study must result in a 90% reduction in service by merging ten agencies into one.

    In fact, if all of 10538 is served by TMFD and no other changes are made in TMFD staffing but the apparatus is deployed from both fire stations, in many areas response times would improve for apparatus and for both career and volunteer firefighters. But my study envisions additions to TMFD staffing which would result in further improvements.

    2. We disagree about 60-control. While Larchmont unfortunately does not dispatch through 60-control (one of the only fire departments in Westchester that still doesn’t) Larchmont does request mutual aid through 60-control and the event chronologies for serious fires are very detailed. For example, for the 1/1/2008 fire in Larchmont, the event chronology shows the time that LFD apparatus arrived. It shows a mutual aid request to NRFD at 6:42 and the arrival of the two NRFD apparatus at 6:54 – 12 minutes later – and LFD’s fire chief arriving at 7:29. You state that 60-control only records the arrival of the first apparatus, but their Incident Detail reports document the entire chronology of the event.

    With a little cooperation from the departments involved, one could make reasonable inferences about numbers of apparatus and firefighters on scene at various times during the progression of an incident. The point for the Michaelian study is that a study of existing response metrics is essential to evaluate both the problems and the solutions. If, for example, NRFD takes 12 minutes to respond to an urgent working fire mutual aid call in Larchmont early on a holiday morning when there is absolutely no traffic, what does this mean for the Michaelian plan’s service configuration? Are we sure that rigs from New Rochelle would get to Larchmont in eight minutes?

    3. Mr. Nechis misunderstands my comments about NFPA 1710. What I said was “With more than 50 active and qualified volunteer firefighters, and an effective working relationship with the Village of Mamaroneck Fire Department, it has the capacity to deliver 22 firefighters to a working fire scene within 8 minutes. As a combination volunteer/career fire department, TMFD comes under NFPA 1720, but it has the capacity to match many of the performance expectations applied in Michaelian study.”

    I was applying the performance expectation that the Michaelian study features on page 3: “Fire apparatus is an area where both response and costs can be dramatically improved. The current configuration reveals that staffing is not sufficient to provide a four-minute response time for the first engine and a 22 member response within eight minutes of a first alarm call.”

    Mr. Nechis says “None of those items are what the standards requires, you need to reread the standard before commenting on it.” But I was simply applying the standard of performance as presented in a featured statement in the study.

    In summary, I think that the recommendations in the Michaelian Study might work for some of the communities involved. However, for Larchmont I think that a much better approach would be to eliminate LFD and have the TMFD provide service for Village of Larchmont area. The cost could be significantly lower than current costs, and dramatically lower than the probable costs under the Michaelian plan. The quality of service would be likely to meet or exceed NFPA 1720, and it would be a significant improvement over the current quality of service in Larchmont.

  • Barry Nechis

    “I’m sorry, just trying to catch up, Mr. Benechis, what is your background and how did you become a key part of this survey?”

    27 years fire service, volunteer & career. Currently as a career captain. I’ve also worked as a fire instructor.
    28 years EMS with over 25 as a paramedic. Volunteer & career. I started in Larchmont/TOM VAC and TMFD.
    I am currently certified as NYS regional faculty (to teach paramedic & EMT instructors).
    Assorted degrees in Fire Science, Public Safety Administration, Occupational Safety & Health Admin., this semester I will finish a masters in public admin.

    I have run a consulting company for 20 years that evaluates and does planning for public safety focusing on evaluating and improving service levels. Some of my customers include police and fire departments in 4 states, New York City (NYPD, FDNY & DEC), The US Park Service, Exxon, Shell Oil, American Cyanamid, Dow, Union Carbide, I.B.M. (in their manufacturing facilities) and the FBI.
    I chair the REMSCO (EMS) Disaster Tag (planning committee) and chaired the counties WMD Planning Committee and am a member of the County Technical Rescue Oversight Committee. I have written over $3 million in emergency service grants for career, combo and all volunteer depts. (for free). I also have a background in GIS mapping and evaluation using ESRI GIS with network analysis.

    I became a member of the team because I am clearly qualified, thank you.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Excuse-me, from which planet is our wise person coming ? Larchmont has 6300 inhabitants or about and one square mile and not a lot of tall buildings or dangerous installations and the standard recommends 60 extra firefighters ? 1% of the population will work for the LFD if we want to abide by the standard ? where does the standard-setter come from ? union heaven ? how many FF does NYC city (8Mio inhabitants) need then ? 80,000 ?”

    The standard is not based on population, it is based on a fire in a 2,000 square foot home without a basement. The standard (NFPA 1710) says you need 16 firefighters (15 if you do not run /need to operate a ladder truck) on duty. 16 ff’s (including officers) x 5.2 the number you need to avoid paying OT equals 83, you have 16, so I was wrong, you do not need 60 you need 67.

    If your buildings are bigger or have hazards like basements then you need more firefighters. Now how many buildings in Larchmont are bigger than 2,000 square feet? How many 50+ year old 5-6 story ordinary construction, open cockloft non sprinklered buildings are there? Not many big homes….. particularly in the manor.
    What does NYC send to a fire alarm (not a fire, just an alarm) between 30 – 40 firefighters. Here we are complaining about half the number. Now the beauty of consolidation, you don’t need as many when you cover a larger area if it is 1 dept than multiple depts., for example if LFD, TMFD and VMFD all were to want to meet 1710 on their own (yes I know that VMFD & TMFD have no desire to and none, including LFD have the ability to) you would need 75 firefighters and officers in each of the depts.. or a total of 225 firefighters. If the 3 communities had only 1 dept. they would need a minimum of 75 (they might need a few more to completely cover the full time response, I have not done the mapping to figure it out). So even if they needed say an extra 50 it still saves 100 positions that are not needed.

    The real problem in Westchester is we have too many depts. trying to cover 1-2 square miles as if they had walls around it and must handle 100% of anything and everything by themselves.

  • TryingtoCatchUp

    Thank you Mr. Nechis. Just asking, no need to be defensive.

  • Charles

    Everybody, please take note.. This doesn’t happen often around these parts. Someone who actually knows what they are talking about and is, dare I say it, QUALIFIED on this subject is trying to teach us something.
    Thank you Captain Nechis.

  • Barry Nechis

    Thank you charles

  • Interested

    Mr. Nechis

    I have a few questions for you: if the combined departments of the VOL and TMFD clearly met/exceeded the requirements of a combination department as per NFPA (1720) would you feel safe (with respect to fire protection) with your family living within the VOL? If the answer is that you would only accept NFPA 1710 (a full career dept.), then can you justify the higher cost for such a service?

  • Barry Nechis

    “I have a few questions for you: if the combined departments of the VOL and TMFD clearly met/exceeded the requirements of a combination department as per NFPA (1720) would you feel safe (with respect to fire protection) with your family living within the VOL?”

    I have a major problem with the principal concepts in 1720. Ignore for a moment the word “career” in 1710, now what does the 1710 standard ask for? An engine company with a minimum of 3 firefighters and an officer shall 90% of the time arrive within 6 minutes (1 min for dispatch, 1 min for turnout, 4 min drive time) and the remainder of the full assignment totaling at least 15-16 interior qualified members shall arrive within another 4 minutes.

    1720 does not have any response standard, it basically says that in a volunteer or combo dept. you should do an evaluation to determine how many members are needed to perform critical jobs on the fire ground and you should not do them till those numbers show up. So if you determine that 6 firefighters arriving 60 minutes into the call is ok and you can do that then you meet 1720.

    The problem here is fire does not care if the firefighters are getting paid or not.

    The other critical difference is training. Both standards state that firefighters need to meet the minimum standards set by the agency having jurisdiction (AHJ) which is the local fire dept., and based on state regulations. New York State is one of only a handful of state s that has two different training standards. And the difference is dramatic a volunteer needs 40 hours of training in the 1st year and 8 hours annual in-service training, a career firefighter by law must have 269 hours training before he/she can respond on an calls, but the actual career fire academy is 520 hours and the law requires that the career firefighter receives 100 hours minimum annual in-service. Now I personally know many volunteers who have more training than career personnel, but I also have seen the state records and the majority have less than 10% of the training. So the question becomes what level of training would the AHJ in this case set.

    Again fire does not care if the firefighters are getting paid or not, but the level of training will determine if they will be successful or not.

    Would I feel safe? That all depends on what the departments are willing to do to prove that they can meet realistic response criteria. Its been said here that the members are well trained, but to what standard? It has been said that they can turn out the numbers need? How many are actual interior qualified (not just certified), I mean how many are willing to crawl down a hallway to make a fire attack or a rescue. I am not putting anyone down, I truly do not know the answer. And what is the ability to do this 24/7/365, can this be done Tuesday at 10am the same as on a Saturday afternoon, or a drill night?

    27 years ago I was a volunteer in TMFD and I had completed the minimum training by the time I responded to my 1st fire. At the time it was common to see 30 or more TMFD firefighters show up on drill night, but Tuesday at 10am….that was a different story. My 1st fire was on a Tuesday morning and I responded in my car to a reported house fire on Dillon Road. I arrived, put my gear on proceeded to engine 51 got an SCBA (air pack) saw that the paid driver had stretched a line to the front door and saw there was a heavy smoke condition in the house. The driver told me get in there and put it out. So I crawled around with the hose for a while, the smoke condition kept getting worst, but I never found the fire. I came out maybe 5 minutes later and a chief and another career ff (driving L-19 and 2 additional volunteers were getting their gear on. It turned out the fire was in the basement, luckily while very smoky it was a minor fire, but my point is the response was considered acceptable and normal. I have been out of TMFD for a long time and I have no idea what their current daytime (or night time, for that matter) ability is, but my point is under 1720 (which did not exist at the time) if I had just waited a few minutes before going in we would have met this “standard”.

    So no I would not feel safe living anywhere (in respect to fire) with a dept. that only met 1720. That does not mean I would only accept 1710. With the exception of the on-duty portion of 1710 and even if you add a couple of extra minutes for volunteers to arrive from home/work a local volunteer or combination dept. can meet the general time frame, and the number of trained members for me to consider it a proper response, there are a couple of volunteer depts. in Westchester who can do that, there are also another 30 or so that can not. I do not know if TMFD can, as I do not know how many members are trained and can arrive in a reasonable time, I do know that LFD can not at this time meet this standard.

    “If the answer is that you would only accept NFPA 1710 (a full career dept.), then can you justify the higher cost for such a service?”

    The question is it a higher cost? Yes career depts. spend more money, but they usually cover a much larger tax base, which means that each property may pay less. I have compared what the average homeowner in New Rochelle pays ($400 per year) in property tax to support NRFD and that is lower than many of the volunteer depts. in Westchester collect per home and in many cases because of very poor insurance ratings they also pay up to 60% more in insurance. Does this mean LFD would cost more or less if it were fully staffed, of course it would cost more, but only if it only covered its small area, if combined within a large district it may cost the same, we are still waiting to see the final numbers from Michaelian.

    Professor Benton will calculate that I am all wrong, and show you the numbers from his study, but I found a little $14.2 million dollar error in his calculations of fire costs in New Rochelle. In his study he shows that the 2008 NRFD budget was $24,085,125 it was actually $24,069,629 (minor difference) but the amount of property tax and the tax rate is what is way off. New Rochelle collected $45.3 million in property tax but the city budget is $111.2 million, that means $66 million came from other sources. So only 40.75% of our budget comes from property tax. That means the rate of 123.76 that Professor Benton reports is actually 50.43222 The advantage of having a bigger district and the advantage that city’s and counties have over towns and villages is they have a number of other revenue sources. So in his study the concept that protection by New Rochelle cost more is wrong, it costs our property owners less than what Larchmont currently pays.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Let’s start by summarizing what Mr. Nechis and I seem to agree about, with a focus on what it means for Larchmont. “

    Some of the area’s that you state we agree on, you gave a slight twist #2 & #4 I must expand upon:

    “2. (I don’t know what he means by saying that Larchmont does not meet ISO – LFD has the highest rating it is eligible for – but I would agree that Larchmont is at risk of a downgrade the next time ISO visits.) We agree that Larchmont should not continue the way it is.”

    What do you mean the highest rating it is eligible for? There are no restrictions or “eligibility levels” unless the community has no municipal water system (hydrants). The ISO rating is an open book Test, score between 70% and 79.99 you get a 3, 80% – 89.99% you get a 2 etc.

    “4. We seem to agree that mutual aid is not working well in Larchmont.”

    The career chiefs and the Michaelian study believe that mutual aid is not working in Westchester not just Larchmont. Most fire incidents where mutual aid is called have the same outcome…total loss of the structure. There was a time, not that long ago when depts. the size of LFD or TMFD would call for one other dept to help at a fire and a 2nd dept to cover the empty fire station, now we see 6, 7 or more FD’s being called on mutual aid for simple room and content fires. Very few depts. can manage at the best of times to staff their fleet.

    “Now let’s review some areas where we seem to disagree.
    1. Mr. Nechis misunderstands what I recommend about consolidating LFD into TMFD. Just in case there is confusion over what I am saying, I have posted a copy of my most recent study at the following website”

    So which of the 6 studies that I have seen is the right one? How many ways does it need to be spun? Is Maybe that why I am confused.

    “I disagree with Mr. Nechis’ assertion that consolidation would result in a 50% reduction in coverage. By Mr. Nechis’ logic – that merging two agencies into one results in at 50% reduction in service – the Michaelian study must result in a 90% reduction in service by merging ten agencies into one.”

    In your study on page 2 you state: “Full Consolidation Under TMFD: Larchmont could eliminate the LFD, and the TMFD service area could be expanded to provide protection to the Village of Larchmont. Some of the apparatus and TMFD paid firefighters might be stationed in the Larchmont firehouse. Result: This approach, as explained further below, could result significant savings for LFD and TMFD taxpayers while also improving services. What would full consolidation look like if it were fully implemented? The LFD would cease to exist as an agency of the Village of Larchmont, and the LFD budget would be
    eliminated.”

    Now if you eliminated the LFD Budget and do not expand the TMFD budget what happens to the 16 career firefighters in Larchmont, they represent 50% of the current staffing of the 2 depts.

    To cover this loss you have suggested that TMFD staff could be placed in LFD’s house. Since TMFD often staffs with only 2 career members that means that most areas of the town would see a delay in the 2nd member arriving and that in the village they would go from 3 firefighters on duty to 1.

    If currently TMFD has 3 engines, 1 ladder and 2 -3 career firefighters on-duty and LFD has 3 engines, 1 ladder and 3 career firefighters on-duty and you eliminate LFD, then you have cut your service by 50%. Maybe the problem here is terminology I believed consolidation means adding TMFD and LFD but professor Benton’s use means dismantling LFD and laying off its employees. Not only does this mean less capabilities in Larchmont, but also less services in the TOM. The Michaelian study does not recommend laying off employees, but sending more (not less) fire fighters to emergencies. Professor Benton even states that if Larchmont wants to keep 1 fire truck, it will cost an extra $500,000 to do it, so they will not save the 17% he suggests. Under this proposal the LFD fire station which today has 3 firefighters on-duty will drop down to 1 on-duty. Can TMFD staff 1 rig for $500,000, based on salary and benefits I don’t believe so, So this number seams a little low.

    How does less firefighters improve service?

    “In fact, if all of 10538 is served by TMFD and no other changes are made in TMFD staffing but the apparatus is deployed from both fire stations, in many areas response times would improve for apparatus and for both career and volunteer firefighters. But my study envisions additions to TMFD staffing which would result in further improvements.”

    Yes with this merger Dillon park gets better service, But Murdock Woods gets less. Could Dillon park get this improved service just by TMFD & LFD agreeing to automatic aid (simultaneous dispatch of both depts.) and at the same time this would not reduce the services to Murdock woods or the northern half of the town for that matter.

    So after laying off the 16 LFD career firefighters you envision the town adding 4 additional firefighters to “improve service”. Is your study about money, service levels or just getting rid of LFD employees?

    “We disagree about 60-control. While Larchmont unfortunately does not dispatch through 60-control (one of the only fire departments in Westchester that still doesn’t)”

    According to 60 controls website they dispatch for 42 fire departments. Westchester has 58 FD’s. so Larchmont is in the company of 16 departments.

    “Larchmont does request mutual aid through 60-control and the event chronologies for serious fires are very detailed. For example, for the 1/1/2008 fire in Larchmont, the event chronology shows the time that LFD apparatus arrived. It shows a mutual aid request to NRFD at 6:42 and the arrival of the two NRFD apparatus at 6:54 – 12 minutes later – and LFD’s fire chief arriving at 7:29. You state that 60-control only records the arrival of the first apparatus, but their Incident Detail reports document the entire chronology of the event.”

    NRFD has used 60 Control for the last dozen or so years and if you ask them for a detailed report for a specific incident they will give you the info listed above, but for the 8,000+ incidents we respond to each year they do not. That means you can not determine if you are meeting the standards, since the standards need to be calculated on all calls where more than one unit is dispatched, that includes EMS calls.

    “With a little cooperation from the departments involved, one could make reasonable inferences about numbers of apparatus and firefighters on scene at various times during the progression of an incident”

    If you can only make reasonable inferences about numbers of firefighters on scene at various times then you are not performing personnel accountability as required by OSHA/PESH law,

    “The point for the Michaelian study is that a study of existing response metrics is essential to evaluate both the problems and the solutions. If, for example, NRFD takes 12 minutes to respond to an urgent working fire mutual aid call in Larchmont early on a holiday morning when there is absolutely no traffic, what does this mean for the Michaelian plan’s service configuration? Are we sure that rigs from New Rochelle would get to Larchmont in eight minutes?”

    Thank you Professor, you pointed out the million dollar question. The Michaelian Study, the Career Chiefs and myself all have said that mutual aid does not work and you just proved it. When any agency calls 60 control requesting New Rochelle, 60 control requests via radio that NRFD’s deputy chief contact 60 control, this is usually done by the chiefs aid. 60 makes the request, which is relayed to the deputy chief and he has the authority to send or not send and who to send, he advises 60, who tones out the specified units. NRFD has a policy that no unit can go out of town without an officer on it and we do not always have an officer on every ladder, so they may go to a different station to swap personnel before responding to the requesting community, if we are short officers an off-duty officer will be recalled to duty to respond with that unit. NRFD also most commonly sends Engine 22 & Ladder 12 to out of town calls, this is not the closest station to Larchmont, but it’s the best for maintaining NR coverage. Finally if the units going out of town are going directly to the fire (instead of to cover a vacant fire station) we also send a safety officer to protect our employees. The safety officer works weekdays in staff and nights and weekends must be recalled.
    Now we do not do any of those things when our rigs respond to different districts within our response area. If LFD was part of the larger consolidated area, they would not have to call for help, the initial tone out would have received 2 engines, 2 ladders, 1 rescue, 1 chief, and if the dispatcher thought it might be an actual fire they can automatically send an additional engine. The moment the 1st unit arrives and states on the radio that is a working fire, the 4th engine is automatically dispatched (as FAST Unit). All units sent are closest units and no one has to make any decisions.

  • Ned Benton

    Mr. Nechis disputes my finding, in a study of fire department consolidation, that the equalized property tax rate for fire protection in New Rochelle ($124) is almost twice the rate in Larchmont ($72) and almost three times the rate in the Town of Mamaroneck Fire District ($36). He does not dispute what NRFD spends, nor the equalized tax base calculations. Rather, he claims that New Rochelle non-property-tax revenues (such as sales tax collections, fees for licenses, fines for parking violations, etc.) make the NRFD fire department cost less. By Mr. Nechis logic, if New Rochelle decided to fund the entire NRFD budget with sales tax revenues, the NRFD would then cost nothing!

    The cost of NRFD should reflect the total of what it spends from all sources of funding. The revenues Nechis refers to (the majority is from sales taxes) are simply other sources of funding for public services. They have practically nothing to do with the NRFD, which still costs about $24 million to operate, whether the cost is paid using property taxes or sales taxes or parking fines. This cost is fully reflected in the determination of the total property tax rate that New Rochelle property owners have to levy.

    Identifying full costs is particularly important in a consolidation study when the full costs are going to be transferred to a consolidated district that will, by law, rely primarily on property taxes collected on the properties in the district.

    If Nechis and his colleagues really believe his cost analysis theory, there is another giant flaw in their consolidation study. If the operation of the NRFD within the City government of New Rochelle really reduces the cost by more than 50% because of sales taxes and other revenues, then the instant the $24 million cost of the NRFD is transferred over to the new district (which gets no sales taxes), the entire $24 million cost has to be funded without the offset of sales taxes and other revenues. Therefore, because of the consolidation, the cost of providing fire protection in New Rochelle suddenly more than doubles! I don’t think the Michaelian authors believe this, but it is the logical consequence of Mr. Nechis’ cost analysis theory.

    Mr. Nechis also misunderstands how the cost of fire protection services is financed when a fire district is created though consolidation. If Larchmont and/or the New Rochelle join the proposed new fire district and eliminate the current fire departments, the costs of operating their current fire departments will largely drop from the village and city budgets, but the sales taxes and other revenues will remain with the village and the city.

    These costs will then become part of the budget of the new district, along with the additional costs to expand services to meet NFPA 1710. The new district will collect property taxes from the property owners served by the districts, but the new district will not receive sales tax revenues. This is what the laws say that the Michaelian Report cites on pages 167 and 168.

    For example, the New Rochelle property tax payers would see their New Rochelle property tax rate drop because New Rochelle is no longer paying for most of the $24 million cost of the NRFD. But they will see their property taxes rise because they will have to pay a new property tax – their share of the $88 to $114 million cost of operating the new district. But sales taxes will still come to the City of New Rochelle – they will not be affected by the consolidation.

    Under the Michaelian plan, Larchmont residents are likely to experience very large tax increases in three ways. First, our costs will go up because the total cost of operating the new district will be greater than the combined cost of the town agencies to be consolidated. Second, our costs will go up because we are merging with departments that have higher-cost approaches to firefighting. Third, our costs will go up because our share of the consolidated district cost, based on our higher assessed valuations, will be greater that our separate share of the separate costs.

  • Interested

    Thank you Mr. Benton and Mr. Nechis for your careful analysis and valuable time.

    Mr. Benton: What is the current capability of the TMFD with respect to training, interior structural FF capacity? Manpower/attendance? What percentage of the combined career force needs to be retained if the VOL folds into the TMFD? What are the cost savings?

    Mr. Nechis: You referenced an event that happened to you as a volunteer 25 years ago. A friend of mine joined the NYFD back in the mid-80′s and he told me that back then they were instructed to throw their helmets out of a window if they got in trouble. Does that still happen?

  • PCFD

    I, too, would like to express my thanks to both Mr. Nechis and Professor Benton for their review and analysis. Both bring excellent points to the table. Such a respectful and honest debate is refreshing to see.

    As a Port Chester FF for the past 4 years, I have had the distinct pleasure to work with the TMFD, VMFD and even VOL at numerours scenes. I have over 500 hours of NY State classes and 1500 hours of on scene experience. With that, my opinion on the study is as follows:
    1) Some areas need career FF, plain and simple.
    Obviously cities like New York, White Plains, New Ro and Mt. Vernon need fully staffed career departments. In addition, large areas such as the Greenburgh corridor, while at one time were volunteer, could be better run with an all career department. This is not to say there is no role for the volunteers, but with so much work and so much going on, it seems unlikely the volunteers will be able to muster up the consistency needed. If for anything else, the fact that the landscape has changed so much over the years. The structures, the roadways, the requirements, and the need to have the most up to date training. The study hits a good chord with the consolidation on that front.
    2) Having said that, there are other areas that do not need a career department. And to suggest that they do chips away at the credibility of this study. This is a major issue that bothers me about the study. The ONLY answer the study provides for, is that for all of these departments involved, they should bolster the career ranks and the ramifications career staffing would have on each. While the Greenburgh area has the need, as based on their work load, fire district type, etc. An area such as Larchmont, which counts its duration between fires in YEARS, and whose FIRE run total (not inflated by 24 hour EMS runs) is extremely low, to suggest it needs more career men is irresponsible. Yes, I agree with Mr. Nechis that it is not the cost, but service that is the underlying goal of the study. However, to suggest that this area should be rolled in with the likes of Greenburgh is a major flaw in the study’s rationale.
    Larchmont is not White Plains. It is not Greenburgh. Larchmont isn’t even Town of Mamaroneck. It is a one square mile village, with a fire every 3 years, that is surrounded by well staffed, well trained departments, that can be on scene within 4-8 minutes. YES, tweaking is needed and YES a review of standards is needed. Simply put, I find it hard to believe that EVERY department involved in the study has the same answer. Bolster career staffing.
    As to the issue of training (I have never been taught to throw my helmet out a window). As Mr. Nechis has said there are times its hard to find a volunteer FF to crawl down a hallway. And that was probably true back in his day when 40 hours was enough to be considered interior and its true today when 120 hours are needed. However, when it comes to training, the good ones know training never ends. I have 500 hours and I am only now becoming comfortable with certain issues on the fireground. And yet, after talking to some Larchmont guys, I have more fire under my belt than they do! That’s life in todays fire service. Fires are going down, EMS calls are going up. Larchmont, Mamaroneck, PC, are NOT New York City. So for all the folks in Larchmont worried about “Do we have enough coverage” after reading this report, YES, the tools are within range, but some communication is needed, not more qualified men to sit at the house.
    As for Interested questions about department training records, only the department leader (I.e. Chief) can accurately answer the training levels of his department. I do not know if Mr. Benton is privy to such information? Or if a formal request needs to be filed. I would warn against guessing or using the experiences of a member from a decade ago to ascertain what the standards are. Training standards are wildly different from department to department. For the record, I have been in classes with TMFD guys and their standards are significantly stronger and more demanding than those around them. Doens’t mean its enough, or not enough. I’m not the judge, the voters are.
    In closing, I agree with a good deal of the study and believe Mr. Nechis presents a fair point of view for his group. Professor Benton also provides an accurate review of what even Mr. Nechis has described as incomplete data. Going forward I think its fair to say this study was a nice first step for the career departments. I would hope the volunteer side would find a grant to do their own research and somewhere in the middle we should meet.

  • Interested

    Thanks PCFD.

    To your point about research, the Tri-Municipality just formed a Consolidation Group to study these issues as well as other avenues for cost savings. We can only hope that they have the political and local support to view this issue of combining the VOL and TMFD through an objective lens.

  • Anon E Mous

    Yes, many thanks to Mr. Nechis and Professor Benton, and PCFD for the continuing thoughtful and informative discussion. As Interested points out, we can only hope that they receive political and local support so that the issues can be analyzed efficiently and resolved within a short time span.

    Different conditions have different requirement, a mid-rise apartment building would likely require a different turn out than a single story home located on a .5 acre lot.

    Some people may prefer fully turned out engine and ladder companies and a chief parked 7×24 within a block of their home but as it is with all other services, we are starting to realize that our scarce resources must be allocated, hard as that is to understand in many cases.

    It is the responsibility of our leaders to make such decisions with appropriate intelligence and in the appropriate time. It is the function of voters to replace their leaders when their leaders fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

  • Barry Nechis

    I posted an important response to Professor Bentons ISO statements and Mutual aid statements on the 17th but due to a minor technical issue it did not get pasted till the 20th, but it is still listed as the 17th @ 9:55pm. for those that would like to go back and review.

  • Barry Nechis

    “By Mr. Nechis logic, if New Rochelle decided to fund the entire NRFD budget with sales tax revenues, the NRFD would then cost nothing!”

    No, it would cost the property owners nothing, but it would then cost them the $14 million in FD savings to fund police services that would lose that sales tax funding.

    “The cost of NRFD should reflect the total of what it spends from all sources of funding. The revenues Nechis refers to (the majority is from sales taxes) are simply other sources of funding for public services. They have practically nothing to do with the NRFD, which still costs about $24 million to operate, whether the cost is paid using property taxes or sales taxes or parking fines. This cost is fully reflected in the determination of the total property tax rate that New Rochelle property owners have to levy.”

    If we did not have those other sources then the property owners would be paying 60% more. As a property owner it nice to go to price club or Home depot and see people from other communities come to town and help pay for our services. Yes our budget is $24 million but since Professor Benton’s study determined our tax rate based on the total spent by the City and not by the amount charged to property owners his rate is still wrong.

    Yes the cost is represented, but he still overstated our tax rate by 59.75%. Since he has made the whole issue on how much more our study would cost the VOL but made a financial mistake of this magnitude maybe all of his other figures need to be scrutinized, we at least from the start said more work was needed on the total financials, He still claims he is correct.

    “If Nechis and his colleagues really believe his cost analysis theory, there is another giant flaw in their consolidation study. If the operation of the NRFD within the City government of New Rochelle really reduces the cost by more than 50% because of sales taxes and other revenues, then the instant the $24 million cost of the NRFD is transferred over to the new district (which gets no sales taxes), the entire $24 million cost has to be funded without the offset of sales taxes and other revenues. Therefore, because of the consolidation, the cost of providing fire protection in New Rochelle suddenly more than doubles! I don’t think the Michaelian authors believe this, but it is the logical consequence of Mr. Nechis’ cost analysis theory.”

    To the uneducated your logic makes perfect sense. If NRFD were to become part of the consolidated district, the NRFD would cost the new district $24 million and the city could reduce its commitment by $24 million ($9.8m in property tax and $14.2m from other sources), what would occur is the city’s property tax would drop by $24 million with $14.2m in other sources covering the property tax reduction by paying for Police & DPW. The end result is the taxpayer will pay the same amount at the end of the day.

    “Mr. Nechis also misunderstands how the cost of fire protection services is financed when a fire district is created though consolidation. If Larchmont and/or the New Rochelle join the proposed new fire district and eliminate the current fire departments, the costs of operating their current fire departments will largely drop from the village and city budgets, but the sales taxes and other revenues will remain with the village and the city.”

    Thank you for the lesson, my response above addresses that. One of the great advantages that Michaelian has is the professors and other professionals who worked on this project and teach the MPA (masters of public administration) are real world city comptrollers and finance commissioners and clearly understand the concepts listed above. In fact they are the ones who determined the flaws in your tax rates. Good thing nobody is likely to check those figures, so your secret is safe on this forum.

    “These costs will then become part of the budget of the new district, along with the additional costs to expand services to meet NFPA 1710. The new district will collect property taxes from the property owners served by the districts, but the new district will not receive sales tax revenues. This is what the laws say that the Michaelian Report cites on pages 167 and 168.”
    Oh so we do know what we are talking about, thanks.

    “For example, the New Rochelle property tax payers would see their New Rochelle property tax rate drop because New Rochelle is no longer paying for most of the $24 million cost of the NRFD. But they will see their property taxes rise because they will have to pay a new property tax – their share of the $88 to $114 million cost of operating the new district. But sales taxes will still come to the City of New Rochelle – they will not be affected by the consolidation.”

    Fascinating, that is basically what I just said, to rebut your previous statement, so which version do you believe, the one where you claim that New Rochelle will pay double or the one where you claim they will not be affected?

    “Under the Michaelian plan, Larchmont residents are likely to experience very large tax increases in three ways…….. “

    Again, you insist on crying the sky will be falling in Larchmont under Michaelian, which we have clearly stated the village should not draw any cost conclusion till ALL of the facts are in. But your ½ dozen studies keep urging a quick move to consolidation, based on wrong financial numbers and a failure to advise what service levels are or will be for all the residence in TOM & VOL.

    How much damage will result to both the TOM & the VOL if they fail to account for the level of service they will receive after this rush to dump the Larchmont Fire Department? Professor Benton, you have made it perfectly clear that the VOL should immediately eliminate LFD. I find it fascinating that your proposal only occurred after you quit LFD.

  • Barry Nechis

    “Thank you Mr. Benton and Mr. Nechis for your careful analysis and valuable time. Mr. Benton: What is the current capability of the TMFD with respect to training, interior structural FF capacity? Manpower/attendance? What percentage of the combined career force needs to be retained if the VOL folds into the TMFD? What are the cost savings?”

    I would love to see this and have offered my service to help analyze this.

    “Mr. Nechis: You referenced an event that happened to you as a volunteer 25 years ago. A friend of mine joined the NYFD back in the mid-80’s and he told me that back then they were instructed to throw their helmets out of a window if they got in trouble. Does that still happen?”

    I do not know if FDNY still does this, but in the mid 80’s NRFD had stopped teaching this other than as a historical, “how it use to be before radio’s and air packs”. If I were trapped, I want all my protective equipment, there is no guarantee that anyone would even spot it, but radios and pass alarms are the way to get everyone’s attentions.

  • Ned Benton

    Readers can make up their own minds about most of what Mr. Nechis says. My positions are fully presented and there is no point in repeating them. I will, however, respond to some of the new comments.

    QUESTION ABOUT TMFD

    I agree with the comment that the TMFD leadership is the appropriate source of information about the capabilities of TMFD. However, the following Larchmont Gazette articles about recent fires suggests their capabilities, and the ability of TMFD to make effective use of mutual aid.

    http://larchmontgazette.com/2008/articles/20081124fires.html
    http://larchmontgazette.com/2008/articles/20081208aptfire.html

    The second article states “Approximately 45 TMFD firefighters were at the scene said the chief. Additional support came from Village of Mamaroneck and Village of Larchmont; Town of Harrison units stood by at the Weaver Street fire house.”

    CONSOLIDATION TASK FORCE

    I agree with the comment about the new task force appointed by the Village of Mamaroneck, Village of Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck. I think that the Task Force can make fair and objective assessments of the options for consolidation, for LFD/TMFD fire protection and in other areas too.

    NECHIS COST THEORY

    Mr. Nechis’ wants to apply his cost theory both ways – that the sales tax makes the NRFD cost less before consolidation takes place, but it saves money somewhere else in New Rochelle’s city budget after consolidation takes place. The fact that New Rochelle raises sales taxes and other revenues reduces the overall property tax rate for New Rochelle, but when the rate is determined, the full cost of the NRFD is included in the calculation.

    But Mr. Nechis needs to focus most on the cost of fire protection after consolidation. The full cost of LFD and NRFD has to be built into the budget of the new district, and then the additional costs have to be added in. That is the relevant “cost” in a consolidation study. That is the cost that Larchmont property taxpayers will be expected to join in supporting.

    MUTUAL AID

    We agree that mutual aid is not working today. What I’m not persuaded about – at least for Larchmont – is whether joining the 10-agency consolidation would be a cost-effective solution. LFD and TMFD have historically not had the kinds of mutual aid problems Nechis describes, although – since the paid-chief reorganization – LFD limits the role of TMFD in mutual aid.

    I was shocked, however, at Mr. Nechis explanation of possible reasons why it took 12 minutes from NRFD to respond to a mutual aid call for a serious working fire in Larchmont. Currently, LFD places a lot of reliance on NRFD for mutual aid. Rather than calling in TMFD first as LFD has done in the past, LFD calls NRFD. But Mr. Nechis says that NRFD may not send an apparatus immediately if a supervisor in not on duty, if a safety officer is not on duty, etc.

    Larchmont Village has two primary choices for mutual Board – NRFD or TMFD. In the past, TMFD has arrived at fires within 3-5 minutes. If NRFD cannot consistently arrive within a comparable time frame, this creates the possibility of unacceptable delays and risks. Given the information Mr. Nechis provided, in the event of a fire at my home, I would prefer that mutual aid come from TMFD.

    NRFD is a fine fire department, but 12 minutes is too long to respond.

    BENTON STUDIES

    Mr. Nechis wonders why there are different versions of my studies. I update the version number when I make a revision based on new circumstances and issues.

    TMFD COVERAGE OF LARCHMONT AND THE QUALITY OF FIREFIGHTING

    Mr. Nechis thinks that eliminating LFD will cut the quality of fire protection in 10538 in half. This is because he measures the quality of fire protection primarily by counting the number of paid firefighters on duty. There are two problems with this.

    1. Currently, TMFD is not asked to provide significant assistance to LFD in firefighting at a fire scene, so the LFD does not really benefit by the availability of nearby TMFD firefighters. If TMFD took over fire protection for Larchmont Village, the effective number of paid firefighters showing up in response to an alarm would not change; they would just be coming from two firehouses rather than one.

    2. Nechis does not seem to count volunteer firefighters in his assessment at all. If TMFD took over fire protection for the Village of Larchmont, the number of volunteer firefighters showing up in response to an alarm would increase dramatically.
    The issues are discussed in more detail in the study, at

    http://nbenton.us/LFD10538.pdf

    TMFD COVERAGE OF LARCHMONT – WHAT HAPPENS TO LFD FIREFIGHTERS

    This question is answered in detail in the study. The Village of Larchmont will need to develop and implement a transition plan that treats the LFD paid firefighters fairly.

    If TMFD decides to hire additional firefighters, some of the LFD firefighters might apply and be hired. Other LFD firefighters are nearing retirement eligibility and may decide to retire. If Mr. Nechis’ consolidation plan goes forward for some departments, there will be plenty of professional firefighter positions in the new fire district.

    FIREFIGHTER PENSION COSTS

    Another issue that we all should be aware of is the rising cost of firefighter pensions. Because of the drop on the stock market, next year the premiums that municipalities pay for firefighter pensions are likely to rise significantly. This will add additional costs to the Michaelian consolidation plan which need to be reflected whenever any cost analysis is undertaken by Michaelian.

    There are also new (GASB) government accounting standards that would expect governments to document future pension and retirement costs that are not reflected in the payments to the pension system. Compliance with the new standards would also increase the full-cost accounting of fire protection costs, particularly for departments that make intensive use of paid firefighters.