With the introduction of an under-the-wire amendment on Dec. 19 that included no public discussion, the Greenburgh Town Board eliminated the town’s fire inspector position in the town budget, effective Dec. 31.
The position, which was filled by Russell Maitland, a firefighter for 38 years, 15 of which he served as an assistant chief to the Chappaqua Fire Department, was eliminated because “there was pressure on [the town] to have a zero percent tax hike,” according to Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner.
According to a revised slip sheet on Dec. 19, the budget removed the allotted salary of the fire inspector, labeling the position as eliminated. In the tentative budget, Maitland, a provisional member of the civil servants union, was to earn $81,026, an increase from $77,271 in 2019-20 and $72,758 in 2018-19.
“We don’t want to fund jobs that don’t need to be fully funded,” Feiner said. “We look at internal reviews and ... we are constantly reviewing all the departments in the town and we always look at the amount of work that’s done and whether the position continues to be needed.”
Eight days after the budget passed, Maitland’s supervisor, Steven Fraietta, the town’s building inspector, notified Maitland that he was being terminated due to his position being eliminated in the budget.
The removal of the position was a surprise to some fire districts throughout the town, as Maitland was active amongst the fire departments. The fire inspector was responsible for writing the final certificate of occupancy inspections; inspecting and ensuring that the proper operation of fire, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide alarm systems were being used; ensuring that the access and egress from buildings within the town were proper; answering complaints from the public; assisting fire departments with building violations and issuing summons; ensuring that fire suppression systems were properly maintained; issuing stop work orders; investigating and ensuring that overcrowding conditions didn’t exist in residences; and assisting property owners in following the town’s fire prevention code.
According to Greenville fire Chief Dan Raftery, his department would be in contact with Maitland roughly every few weeks. “Sometimes he would stop in and advise on certain conditions that were happening in our district,” Raftery said.
Hartsdale fire Chief Raymond Maseda, who was sworn in as chief on Dec. 30, said his department also had a frequent working relationship with Maitland.
Fire districts and chiefs were not consulted about the decision to remove the fire inspector position until after the budget had already passed. “Frankly we were not consulted in advance of the decision,” said Greenville Fire Commissioner Jon Faust. “We don’t know the town’s full thinking or reasoning behind it.”
Hartsdale Fire District Commissioner Anthony Frasca told the Inquirer the town also did not notify him of the position’s elimination from the budget.
According to Chief Maseda, chiefs within the village fire departments reached out to the town board to organize a meeting to discuss the elimination of the position.
On Dec. 28, some of the town’s village fire chiefs and the Fairview and Hartsdale fire chiefs spoke to the board during an executive session meeting. According to Feiner, he told the chiefs in the closed door session that the town’s building inspector was going to provide the services that the districts were entitled to.
Two days later, Fraietta sent an email to police Chief Brian Ryan, Fairview fire Chief Howard Reiss, former Hartsdale fire Chief Edward Rush and Greenville fire Chief Raftery, providing his cell phone number for any building department issues that arose outside of normal working hours.
Fraietta declined to comment, redirecting questions to Town Attorney Timothy Lewis.
“That was a provisional employee,” Lewis said. “The reason of his leaving, frankly I don’t know. My understanding is that there is an additional position that’s been added to the town: assistant building inspector. I don’t know if that position would cover the duties.”
Lewis forwarded questions from the Inquirer to Fraietta, who confirmed the building department has 12 employees, four of whom hold the requisite certification to fulfill the role of fire inspector. The certifications include passing the Westchester County civil service test, completing 120 hours of state required basic training courses and completing 24 hours of annual code enforcement training. According to Fraietta, throughout the 16 years he has worked for the town, the town has had a dedicated fire inspector position.
Fraietta wrote to the Inquirer that he had no information regarding questions on when and how he first learned about the elimination of the position, if he was consulted on the position’s elimination prior to the passage of the budget, whether or not the town was hiring an additional assistant building inspector, if the building department had issued any summonses after the elimination of the fire inspector position, if chiefs and fire districts are able to use the same lines of communication with the building department as before, if building department employees were aware of the new responsibilities they would need to be taking on prior to the passage of the budget and why Maitland was contacted and made aware of his position being eliminated eight days after the budget passed.
In the town code, §100-6 section C allows the building inspector to appoint any member of his staff who is qualified and has the requisite certification to serve as a fire inspector for the unincorporated area of the town outside an established fire district.
This week, Feiner said Fraietta would not acquire Maitland’s title, but would be charged with allocating the responsibilities that were previously held by the town’s fire inspector to members of the building department.
“It was really that we didn’t feel that it was a full-time position and we thought that the work would be done by the other employees; saving [the town] money,” Feiner said. “From my understanding … [members of the building department] are qualified.”
In a letter sent to the board on Jan. 8, Maitland said he “had never been treated more poorly or unprofessionally by an employer,” adding that he had demonstrated “exemplary behavior” and “due diligence in the performance of my duties.”
Maitland wrote that the elimination of his position would create a void in the building department that couldn’t be filled by the already “overtaxed” members.
“The elimination of this position was never discussed with the town of Greenburgh fire departments and came as a shock when I announced my departure,” Maitland wrote. “As equally disturbing, it appears that the management of the building department was never consulted.”
“I don’t want people to think that the fire protection is at risk because it’s not at risk,” said Feiner, who said the elimination of the fire inspector position did not have to do with Maitland personally. “We’re not eliminating the duties, we’re just saying we’re going to be doing it with our existing resources.”
According to Chief Maseda, there hasn’t been any real procedural change for the Hartsdale Fire Department.
“There hasn’t been any change other than the phone number,” Maseda said. “Frankly the way it’s kind of gone since the position was eliminated, we’ve called the building department … and they’ve been responsive. From the end user perspective, I haven’t really seen a difference in their response.”
Chief Raftery said he was unsure of what impact the elimination of the fire inspector position would have on the department. “We’re going to continue to do our inspections as we always did,” he said.
At an Old Edgemont Association meeting Jan. 27, Feiner refused to speak about the elimination of the fire inspector position, calling it a “personnel matter” that “he was asked not to discuss” by the town attorney.
Old Edgemont Association President Bill Darger and former candidate for town supervisor Lucas Cioffi pressed Feiner on the issue, asking for a date on when the residents would get answers as to why the fire inspector position was eliminated and what the plan was for the building department employees who would be taking on the new fire-related responsibilities.
“We’ll have a plan,” said Feiner.
“Why not have a plan before you eliminate the position?” asked Cioffi.
“We didn’t say we didn’t have a plan,” Feiner responded.
Although the decision to eliminate Maitland’s position was only publicly available on the day of the budget vote Dec. 19, Feiner said some town board members had highlighted throughout the year that they felt the fire inspector position was not necessary.
In a three-page letter to the board, Edgemont Community Council President Bob Bernstein wrote that the board’s decision to remove the fire inspector position had “needlessly created a public safety risk to the people of unincorporated Greenburgh.”
Referencing town law and multiple town codes, Bernstein wrote that although the town code requires the building inspector and his staff to obtain certification from the state fire administrator, “responsibility for enforcement of state and local fire prevention laws has historically been delegated by the town board to a fire inspector who reports to the building inspector.”
“The ECC requests that the town board restore funding for the fire inspector and, if possible, to restore Mr. Maitland to the position,” wrote Bernstein. “To do so would end the public safety legal limbo that was created when the town board unilaterally, and without notice or discussion, ended the position of fire inspector and … put unincorporated Greenburgh at risk of there being no one who can legally enforce our state and local fire prevention laws.”