Cupon’s Column: The Curious Case of Airmont’s Fire Inspectors, or Numbers Don’t Lie

 The following article contains references to former Village of Airmont employees. To protect their privacy no names are used. 

 Airmont Mayor Nathan Bubel was elected to office in 2019, and reelected in 2023. Prior to Mayor Bubel’s tenure, Airmont employed a full time Fire Inspector as well as a full time and a part time Code Enforcement Officer. As of the writing of this article, Airmont has a part time Fire Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer who each work 16 hours a week and contracts with a 3rd party. How this came about is a curious and at times baffling story. 

 According to Mr. Bubel’s running mates in 2019, one of his priorities was to terminate the employment of the Fire Inspector, citing his failure to keep up with the workload. The Fire Inspector position is a Civil Service position, which gave Bubel a number of roadblocks as well as very strong objections by Airmont Residents and members of the Tallman Fire Dept. The former Fire Inspector left his position during the summer of 2020. Airmont didn’t have a Fire Inspector for over a year. In October of 2021 the Code Enforcement Officer was promoted to the Fire Inspector’s position. 

On April 17th, 2023 Airmont Board voted to abolish the positions of full time Fire Inspector, part time Code Enforcement Officer, as well as the full time Fire Dept Clerk. The resolution stated this decision was done in the interest of economy and efficiency. The Board did not include this item of action on their agenda giving residents no opportunity to weigh in on this decision until after the resolution was voted on and passed. The Board announced the resolution in the public meeting before affected employees were advised they no longer had jobs.  The position of Building Inspector was not affected.  Mayor Nathan Bubel abstained from voting.

 The duties of the abolished positions are now contracted out to the Engineering Firm, Lanc and Tully.  The position of full time Fire Inspector is now handled by a 16 hour a week contractor who is also working 16 hours a week enforcing code violations the cost of which is not to exceed $148,000.00, the total of the employees’ salaries who lost their jobs.  There is no one handling the clerical, scheduling and billing duties of the abolished Senior Clerk/Typist’s position. 

 The resolution stated the motivations of abolishing the positions in the “interest of economy and efficiency” are irrational and absurd, particularly when the following statistics and facts are considered:

 -Airmont residents now have two part time employees for the same cost as two full time employees and 1 part time. 

-The former Airmont Fire Inspector is highly respected, has advanced certifications and training. -He conducted 783 inspections in 2022 in Airmont and billed out over $75,000 in revenue.

-The former Fire Inspector was dealing with a backlog as the position had been vacant for over a year. 

-Airmont has lost over 40% of its tax base since 2019, a part time employee will not be able to produce the volume a full-time position does.

-The Senior Clerk/ Typist handled all administrative duties that allowed the Fire Inspector to focus on doing their job. 

-A number of the fire inspections conducted in 2022 did not pass and still required follow up. It is unknown if anyone is following up on the structures that failed.

-The current part time employee would have to conduct 7.25 inspections a day and handle all of the administrative work as well as scheduling to keep up with the volume of work of the former Fire Inspector.

-The individual who is currently the Fire Inspector only has a basic certification; the Airmont Building Inspector must conduct complex fire inspections in his place. 

-The Building Inspector is handling a record amount of development in Airmont and must now spend time covering the Fire Inspector’s duties he is not certified to do.

-Since the inception of the Airmont, it has been customary for the Fire Inspector to be called to the scene of all fires in Airmont by the Fire Chief. This is no longer possible for a 16 hour a week employee. 

-Ironically, two days after the Fire Inspector’s position was abolished, a residential fire occurred. The Village failed to notify Tallman Fire Dept it no longer had a Fire Inspector to respond to fires, the Fire Chief insisted Mayor Bubel come to the scene of the fire. It is not known if the mayor has knowledge of fire safety. 

 When evaluating the facts, it seems absurd that the Fire Inspector employed in 2019 was criticized for failing to do enough fire inspections, yet the Inspector whose position was abolished in April 2023 appeared to be doing his job too well? In fact, the Fire Inspector position could generate thousands of dollars in fines and inspection fees. That money would cover his salary and protect occupants and first responders. It almost appears that Airmont’s actions have been done to prevent code enforcement in the Village, a huge failure to their obligation to the health, safety and fiduciary duty to its residents. Is there something we are missing?

 The recent plea deal for no prison time in the Evergreen Adult Home fire and the seven fire deaths during the last two years in Spring Valley is a stark reminder that lack of code enforcement has consequences to some, although not all. The County takeover of the Villages’ code enforcement was unprecedented and urgently needed. Yet, when the numbers are examined, the situation is worse than many residents realize.  According to The Hudson Valley Country, on April 5th, New York State had 51 fire deaths. Spring Valley, a two square mile village accounts for almost 10% of the fatalities. This statistic gives an accurate picture of the state of Spring Valley’s code enforcement. Nationally, there are 11.4 fire deaths annually per million residents in the United States.  In 2021, Spring Valley had 33,000 residents. As of the writing of this article, Spring Valley fire deaths in relation to its population is more than three times the nationally average. Another way to look at the statistics is, if Spring Valley had one million residents it would have 34.2 deaths by fire annually. According to World Life expectancy statistics, only 3rd world countries exceed this rate of fire fatalities. 

 Airmont is rapidly becoming the next Spring Valley in Rockland County. In the next few years this 4.5 square mile Village will have two new office buildings,two new warehouses and a new cemetery built next to wetlands all on Route 59. Har Shalom cemetery on Hillside Ave has applied to expand. One of the yeshiva’s has begun the process to add an additional building of more than 100,000 square feet. The Planning Board refers applications to be heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals before the NY State environmental impact statements are complete. Many applications appear before the boards with incomplete applications requiring multiple appearances before the Boards. The most recent Planning Board meeting had seven applications on the agenda, yet five of the seven  applications were adjourned (postponed) because required information had not been received. Despite all of this new building and growth, Airmont’s Board members felt it was in the best interest of residents to reduce code enforcement personnel by more than 50% and replace them with less qualified people. Some people will benefit from the Board’s decision, although it won’t be Airmont residents. 

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