After facing criticisms from other firefighters and members of the community regarding spending, fund-raising and transparency, Irvington Fire Company trustees responded that they have nothing to hide.
“Your undisclosed sources seem to provide misleading information,” said Company Trustee Anthony Tarricone, . “There is nothing exciting to report.”
The controversy emerged last week, about receiving a letter telling him he could no longer be part of the department unless he rejoined the company—something he was not willing to do.
The Irvington Fire Department, which is comprised completely of volunteers—is funded by the Village. It is the entity established to provide fire protection for Irvington. The Irvington Fire Company is a nonprofit organization that oversees community and social events. According to NY State law, any member of a volunteer fire department must be affiliated with a registered fire company.
Former Irvington Fire Chief, and current department member, J.P. Natkin said that while he's incredibly proud of the department, its members and the work they do, he believes there is a marked difference between the Irvington Fire Department and the Irvington Fire Company.
"Though the members are the same, their leadership is different. I am upset that the president of the company and much of its leadership do not actively respond on fire apparatus to emergencies."
While Natkin "is delighted by the number of comments from community members" in support of the fire department and the work it does, he is “saddened to see that many people are upset, and I believe many of them have legitimate concerns."
Tarricone countered that while they may not handle the fire-fighting apparatus, “Every member of the fire company’s leadership actively responds to emergencies. There are 10 such leaders.”
Fire Company trustees do not believe there is anything worth criticizing about how their organization is run or how their funds are spent.
“The volunteers receive no compensation and very few benefits in contrast to their investment of personal time and effort and significant risk that they take,” Tarricone said. “The public understands that firefighters risk their lives to protect the public, and we believe that the public donates to the fire company as a way of showing their support for the efforts of the individual firefighters.”
Natkin thinks more of the Company's funds—separate from what the Village provides the Department for fire protection annually—should be spent on fire-fighting equipment and training.
While he was chief, Natkin proposed that some of the company's funds be used for equipment. More specifically, he said he'd brought proposals to the floor to purchase thermal-imaging cameras on multiple occasions.
"I did not receive support from the company's leadership,” he said.
Tarricone responded that, "all purchases must be approved by the membership and not simply the leadership. All requests for the expenditure of the Company’s funds are carefully scrutinized, as the Village has the legal responsibility to provide equipment for the village’s fire department."
Tarricone explained that part of the reason the Company had shied away from purchasing equipment was for insurance reasons.
"The village owns and insures the equipment, so the village purchases the equipment," Tarricone said. "If the Company were to purchase fire equipment, it would have to obtain its own insurance for the equipment. Duplication of the cost of insurance is not the best choice for the taxpayers or the best use of donated funds."
Natkin expressed disbelief at the explanation.
"That is completely false," he said. "Insurance was never brought up as a reason not to purchase equipment when I made the proposals as assistant chief and as chief. If that is the case, why was insurance not an issue when members of the community donated two thermal-imaging cameras during the same time period?"
Whether community donors understand that their contributions are at the discretion of the company—not allocated specifically for fire-fighting equipment and training—is also a point of contention.
"It is my personal belief that anyone who donates to a nonprofit has the right to know what that money is used for," Natkin said. He called past fund-raising letters "misleading."
A recent financial report shows that for the last five years members of the Irvington Fire Company have held a Christmas Party, attended a weekend retreat at Lake George and hosted a dinner at the Ritz Carlton; the money raised for these events and excursions comes in part from an allotment from a contract between the Village of Irvington and the Town of Greenburgh, in part from a NY State tax refund and in part from fund-raising efforts.
Tarricone and the company see no lack of transparency.
“The donated funds lead to the improved morale of the firefighters," he said. "The fire company is extremely grateful for the support of the public."