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New Public Safety Job for Ex-Fire Chief

Wed, 05/10/2023 - 20:54

Longtime dispatcher, ex-fire chief shifts village role

As East Hampton Village’s first fire and emergency medical services administrator, Gerry Turza, a longtime dispatcher and former fire chief, will be keeping a close eye on equipment needs for both the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments.
Durell Godfrey

After 28 years fielding 911 calls as an East Hampton Village dispatcher, Gerry Turza will be hired at the May 19 East Hampton Village Board meeting for a new village position: fire and emergency medical services administrator. Mr. Turza served as chief of the East Hampton Village Fire Department from 2018 to 2022 and in many other roles, all in the field of public safety, for the last 30 years.

“It’s bittersweet leaving dispatch. I’ve been a supervisor there for 17 years. I’ve trained a very large part of that work force. It’s a tremendous leap of faith I’m taking,” Mr. Turza said last week. Marcos Baladron, the village administrator, said a new dispatcher would soon be hired to help fill the void left by Mr. Turza’s departure.

Mr. Turza will be paid $165,000 in the new role, which represents a 10-percent increase over his current position as a public safety dispatcher supervisor. It’s a hefty sum for a new position, but Mr. Baladron said the funds are accounted for.

“This year’s budget allowed for $134,000 for snow removal,” said Mr. Baladron. “Obviously we got lucky with very little expenses in that budget line item. Gerry Turza will be starting work on June 1st, and considering our end of fiscal year is July 31, it will affect very little this year. Next year’s tentative budget will be announced at the May 19 board meeting and his full salary will be included with zero issues.”

The village will receive $3.4 million from the town for providing dispatch services for the Northwest Fire Protection District this year, an increase of $850,000.

“I don’t get commissions on ambulance rides,” joked Mr. Turza about his salary. The village has been researching the feasibility of billing insurance companies when an ambulance ride is required. Mr. Turza said in other districts, taxes have been lowered by billing. “It’s a complex issue,” he said, but “not something the village is doing at this time.”

The hiring of Mr. Turza comes after a tumultuous winter for the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, which saw 20 to 25 percent of its volunteers leave after the village declared its intention to form a new Emergency Medical Services Department to oversee the ambulance. After two passionate public hearings, the village board voted on April 19 to create the new department.

“This was something that was in the works long before all that stuff happened,” said Mr. Turza.

“It’s the perfect timing to make this role,” agreed Mr. Baladron. “We thought about it a year and a half ago.”

Mr. Turza’s main responsibilities will be to collaborate with Mr. Baladron to develop and present the annual budgets for both the E.M.S. and Fire Departments. He will assess equipment needs, and according to his job description, review and assist with revisions of Fire and E.M.S. Department operations. Mr. Turza will answer to Michael Tracey, the village police chief.

“The driving force behind the job is the paperwork and the administrative end of things,” said Mr. Turza. “Public safety has changed drastically in the last few years. The requirements are suffocating.”

“On the fire side, we submit reports to New York State for every call. There were 1,200 calls last year. The ambulance ran 1400 calls. That’s a lot of paperwork. Right now, the fire marshal’s office is doing that, and they could be doing something else.”

“Putting someone in this position is to take loads off the chiefs, these volunteer chiefs. It’s a national problem,” said Mr. Baladron. “People want to volunteer, they like the idea of being a chief, but it comes with huge administrative responsibilities. So, the village of East Hampton will take on that burden. We just made a $4.5 million purchase of fire trucks. We should get involved with the administrative duties. Gerry is a perfect guy for this role.”

“The role of a fire and ambulance chief has evolved into a complex role of department administration, budget development, as well as a strong knowledge of state, county, and local-level operational procedures,” Mary Mott, the ambulance chief, wrote. “The Village of East Hampton was fortunate to have such a well-qualified local person to place in this position.”

Indeed, Mr. Turza’s qualifications are many. His résumé of emergency management experience is four pages long and includes many leadership positions. He has completed dozens of certifications and trainings.

“I see three main aspects of my job,” he said. “First, to support administratively the Fire and E.M.S. Departments. Second, to make sure our responders have the best and most up-to-date equipment possible so they can serve the public. And third, to look at our future needs. That requires a lot. We really need to make sure we’re doing our due diligence for the public, who pay taxes for these services.”

Another big issue going forward, especially considering recent departures, is retention of volunteers. “We had an exodus of people,” said Mr. Turza, “but we also have people coming back. We’ve already taken on several new drivers. You can have a paid paramedic, but if you don’t have someone to get you there, that’s an issue. The ambulance bylaws were written 50 years ago. Have they changed to reflect the current demands?”

“He’s extremely well-qualified as a resource for chiefs to go to. Running the offices, I have no doubt that he will make them both shine,” said Mr. Baladron.

“It’s more than one person in a position,” said Mr. Turza. “It’s working with a team.”

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