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Contest emerges for county fire coordinator post

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HUDSON–The usually routine county Board of Supervisors appointment for county fire coordinator has turned into a contest this time around.

James VanDeusen, the fire coordinator for the past 15 years is not a shoo-in. Mr. VanDeusen of Claverack was nominated along with Paul D’Onofrio of Greenport; both names were received by the Fire Advisory Board and submitted to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee.

 

At the time of the recommendation the committee, which is chaired by Stuyvesant Supervisor Valerie Bertram, members were Leo Pulcher of Stockport, William Hughes, Jr., of Hudson, William Hallenbeck of Hudson, Bart Delaney of Hudson, Kevin McDonald of Livingston and Reggie Crowley of Copake. A majority voted to recommend Mr. D’Onofrio, who serves as deputy director of the Emergency Management Office. Copake Supervisor Crowley told The Columbia Paper, that after consulting with the Craryville and Copake fire companies, which both support Mr. VanDeusen, he did not vote in favor of Mr. D’Onofrio.

Because of the recommendation, Mr. D’Onofrio’s name will appear on the resolution to be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors at the January 5, 3 p.m. organization meeting. The appointment is for two years.

The reason for the shift is not clear; some say it’s simply time for a change. All Mr. D’Onofrio would say is that he is definitely the candidate recommended by the Public Safety Committee. He would not comment further “out of respect for the process,” he said.

Mr. VanDeusen said in a phone interview this week, “I think I have a majority as far as fire companies.” Out of the 31 fire companies in the county, he believes he has the backing of all but six, which he hopes will translate into the votes of the corresponding supervisors.

He also has the support of the County Fire Chiefs and County Firefighters associations.

It’s not just about him, said Mr. VanDeusen, noting that traditionally one of the deputy fire coordinators steps up into the fire coordinator post, which is a part-time paid position earning $15,000/year. Deputy fire coordinators earn about $2,500/year. Current deputy coordinators are: Bill Hunt of Ancram, John Howe of Ghent, Tad Eigenbrodt of Red Rock, George Keeler of Claverack and Ted Beck of Stuyvesant Falls.

Because the deputies are appointed by the fire coordinator, if Mr. VanDeusen goes so do his deputies–though one or more of them could be reappointed by a new incoming fire coordinator.

Mr. VanDeusen said he had hoped to stay on for another two-years to put in place the new “high band” communications system he and 911 Coordinator Rob Lopez and Emergency Medical Services Coordinator P.J. Keeler have been working on for about six years.

Radio dispatch in the county has always been on low band frequencies, but that system has become antiquated, making repairs difficult and replacement components hard to come by, so the move to upgrade to high or ultra-high band communications technology has been ongoing. The county has committed $4.5 million to the project and fire companies have been putting money aside for the past five years to be able to afford the new mobile, portable and pager equipment that go along with the new system. Just one new pager will cost $600; multiply that by each firefighter who carries one and “it’s not a cheap proposition,” said Mr. VanDeusen.

He has also been working on redoing the mutual aid plan, which requires updating every 10 years.

Also on the agenda of the fire coordinator and his deputies are handling state and county instruction and firefighter training in the county.

“We have great HazMat and Cause and Origin teams,” he said, referring to the hazardous materials and fire investigation units. He said that his office also works with the Fire Chiefs Association to see that fire victims get clothing vouchers and handles all training at the Fire Tower in Philmont. “We do a lot with not a lot of money,” he said. The annual budget for his office is $90,000.

Asked if he had anything to say about the opposition or the reason for the Public Safety Committee recommendation, Mr. VanDeusen said, “That’s not my way, I’m a pretty easygoing guy.”

Though it’s not exactly clear what will happen if the resolution to appoint Mr. D’Onofrio is not approved by a board majority, it is possible that a supervisor could make a motion from the floor to appoint Mr. VanDeusen, who like many will be waiting to see what happens January 5.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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