Not only was Nikolai Kabelev’s request to create a second fire company recently denied by the Irvington Board of Trustees, but the former Irvington firefighter is also being denied the chance to sit down to mediation with the Irvington Fire Company.
“My reaction to all this is that the sequence of events shows how much of a grip this corporation [Irvington Fire Company] has on the local government,” said Kabelev, a member of the Irvington Volunteer Ambulance Corp. and the Westchester County Special Operations Technical Rescue Team.
The Village offered to have a mediator sit down with the Village, Irvington Fire Company and Kabelev to talk about how the parties could work out their differences and work together to improve firefighting service in the village.
“It was the board’s observation that the real issues that the two sides had were not all that different,” said Schopfer. “What was different was the different personalities involved. I think the board was hopeful things could be reconciled, so that was the goal of bringing the two sides together in that way.”
However, Irvington Village Manager Larry Schopfer said when the Irvington Fire Company declined to be involved the option for mediation was dropped. The mayor has still offered to meet with Kabelev.
“It only takes them to say no ‘we just don’t want to sit down’ and the local government complies with whatever they say,” said Kabelev.
Kabelev, named Firefighter of the Year in 2008, resigned from the Irvington Fire Company after Schopfer deemed that a harassment claim filed by Kabelev against the company in 2009 was founded. Schopfer also said that some members of the company sought to retaliate against Kabelev, a Russian native, by questioning his eligibility to volunteer based on his citizenship.
Despite his resignation, Kabelev still wanted to volunteer and continue as a member of the Irvington Fire Department. However, Kabelev said he received a letter from the Village in the early summer of 2012 asking him to return his firefighting equipment since he was no longer a member of the fire department as an old New York State law requires fire department members to also be members of a municipal fire company.
In exchange for members volunteering and taking the time out to be on call, risk their lives fighting fires and undergo training—the Irvington Fire Company, a non-profit organization, provides its members with benefits and organizes social events for the Irvington Fire Department, which uses taxes to provide fire protection to the village.
His fire company would have a different code of conduct and not partake in any of the things he criticized the Irvington Fire Company for, such as: a lack of transparency; making offensive comments; and using company funds to pay for social events, some that include alcohol, instead of using it on equipment.
Kabelev said that preventing other fire companies from serving the Irvington Fire Department gives the Irvington Fire Company a monopoly on firefighting services.
“I do not think this is beneficial for local government, it puts it in a position of disadvantage,” said Kabelev. “This corporation now has control over the volunteers and there is no other way you can volunteer in this municipal fire department. I do not think this is healthy and I don’t think it’s gotten any better.”
Click here for the Irvington Fire Company's response to this story.