The Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department is seeking approval of an approximately $2 million expansion to its firehouse, which its chief says is outdated, and the amending of its Length of Service Award Program.
The department is currently looking to borrow approximately $2 million to fund the construction, according to fire commissioner Ed Koehler and assistant chief John McHugh, who presented their plan to Cedarhurst’s board in August.
“We’ve outgrown this facility,” LCFD chief Joseph Sperber said during a phone interview. “Due to time and age, this building can’t be upgraded to the needs of this modern era.”
LCFD’s firehouse consists of the original building, which was built in 1902, and an extension that was added in 1970. Sperber added that the firehouse does not currently meet NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards.
At its September meeting, Cedarhurst’s board again decided to hold off on a decision to lend the department money until it can gather more information.
“We’re trying to figure out how to pay for it,” said Deputy Mayor Benjamin Weinstock, who has expressed support for the project. “We’re trying to do this without burdening our residents beyond belief.”
The department representatives said that the construction plans were not finalized yet. They described the proposed construction as “nothing spectacular,” and said that the company is very pressed for space.
Sperber stressed the need for a conference center, an emergency preparedness center and a dispatch center that would fulfill the company’s needs.
“Any new trucks we buy today won’t fit into the 1902 building and anything we already have in there cannot be moved,” Sperber said. “Trucks and responders are on top of each other.” This could delay response time and be a hazard to responders, he said.
Village of Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner said that no final decision had been made on whether the village would lend LCFD money, and that the department could expect an answer by the end of the year.
“I take them at their word,” Oliner said in regards to the fire department’s need to expand its facilities. “The village is looking at whether or not it makes sense for us to enter into some sort of variable funding to help them along.”
Length of Service Award Program
The LOSAP program, which is instituted at many local fire departments, allows fire department members to earn and receive monetary benefits based on their years of service and participation within the company until the age of 65.
At Cedarhurst’s Aug. 1 board meeting, Koehler and McHugh explained that the department is looking to eliminate the age limitation for the program, and allow members over the age of 65 to continue earning credits for performing their duties. The department would also like to reduce the entitlement age from 65 to 60, which would lengthen the benefit receiving period.
The LCFD representatives said that other departments in the area have been subject to age discrimination lawsuits due to the age limitation, and that the department would like to amend the program in order to avoid that type of situation.
Sperber echoed the sentiments of his fellow volunteers, and said that by not amending the program, the department could be very susceptible to a lawsuit.
“It’s about recruitment and retention,” Sperber said. “It’s an incentive for all of the members to continue to support the organization in any way they can, and that’s really the whole point of the program.”
At that board meeting, Cedarhurst trustees adopted and approved a resolution to create a public referendum for the proposed changes to the award program. Village of Lawrence trustees also passed a similar motion at its September meeting. The North Lawrence Fire District as well as the Town of Hempstead have to give the LOSAP extension the green light before residents vote on it.
“Members have to spend countless hours away from their family and friends,” Sperber said. “It’s age discrimination by letting a member only participate in the program until they’re 65.”
Allison Howe contributed reporting.