- Editor's note: The amount paid to the Fire Company this year was $33,250 from the Village's contract with Greenburgh. The number was incorrect in the original version. Patch regrets the error.
Volunteer ambulance corps. member and fireman Nikolai Kabelev joined the Irvington FD five years ago. In 2008, Kabalev was named Irvington Fire Fighter of the Year, and he has undergone 1,000 hours of additional training from the State of New York.
Three weeks ago, Kabelev received a letter from the Village telling him to turn in his equipment because he was no longer a registered member of the department.
"I love fighting fires," he said. "But I did not want to be a member of the Fire Company and participate in the social events. I still want to volunteer."
After enduring what he described as "hostile behavior" from another member of the fire department, Kabelev filed a letter rescinding his membership from the Irvington Fire Company, a nonprofit organization that oversees the activities of the fire department—both logistical and social. But he still wanted to be a fire fighter.
According to Village Administrator Larry Schopfer, Kabelev would be welcomed back into the department if he rejoined the company, "But New York State Law says that all volunteer fire fighters must be part of a company; it dates way back to when rogue groups of men would go around putting out fires and trying to collect insurance money for it."
In 2009, Kabelev brought his concern about other members of the department—one in particular—making demeaning and ill-willed comments about to him to the Irvington Fire Company's leaders.
"The Irvington Fire Company took Mr. Kabelev’s complaint very seriously. Immediately after being officially notified we began to investigate and take action by asking the village to perform the official investigation on our behalf. We decided to abide by whatever decision they made," said Irvington Fire Company Vice President Matthew Schaeffer. "Mr. Kabalev resigned at the same meeting at which he made us aware of his complaint."
Kabelev though said he did not feel as if his complaint had been adequately recognized.
The Village hired a hearing officer, who investigated Kabelev's sexual harassment complaint. The officer recommended suspending one member of the Irvington Fire Department for a period of time on the grounds of misconduct, and the Irvington Board of Trustees agreed.
Despite receiving recognition for his complaint, Kabelev did not want to be affiliated with the Irvington Fire Company and declined their ofer to rejoin.
"I didn't join the Fire Department to drink beer," Kabelev said. "I joined to serve the community."
Kabelev said that while nothing forces members of the Company to attend social events or spend time "upstairs" in the fire house, his leaving the group was more symbolic than anything else.
"Too much money from the village goes to the social side of the department, not to equipment and training," Kabeleb said.
Schopfer clarified that the money Kabelev was referring to was around *$33,000—or 35 percent of a contracted sum given to Irvington from the Town of Greenburgh every year for responding to fires in East Irvington, a section of unincorporated Greenburgh.
"The Irvington Fire Company receives that 35 percent every year," Schopfer said. "But the entire Fire Department budget for the upcoming year is $240,170."
He said he didn't know for sure how the money from the Greenburgh contract was spent. "I do know that the Fire Company does sponsor community events—like the celebration for the Girls Basketball team—without using any Village funds."
Though still an active EMT for the Ambulance Corps. Kabelev wishes he could still fight fires—without having to cave in and rejoin the company.
"I don't think a skilled fire fighter should have to put up with hearing offensive comments," he said. "That is not what it is about."