Given its current relationship with Vassar, the Arlington Fire Department (AFD) must respond to every stove-top fire, smoke alarm and EMS call that occurs on campus. So far this school year, these incidents have amounted to 51 calls to the firefighters of Local 2393.
Last semester, in the April 23 edition of The Miscellany News, Arlington firefighter Justin Carlon emphasized the benefits of Vassar utilizing the department’s services (The Miscellany News, “Arlington firefighters ensure campus safety,” 4.23.14).
“We know the College really well. We know the community, the culture, the campus layout,” said Carlon, going on to underscore that if Vassar were to outsource fire and emergency services, it would be costly to students and EMTs would lack this familiarity. Though he continued to bolster the advantages of Arlington Fire Departments collaboration with Vassar, taxpayers in the district are speaking out.
Doreen Tignanelli, a community member whose husband is a fire commissioner for the AFD said, “Officials including the chief say they use the calls as justification as to why they need more man power, more equipment.”
Part of the added workforce comes in the way of the number of professional firefighters working for the AFD alongside the volunteers. While surrounding fire departments function with only volunteers, the AFD prides itself on its paid professionals. Nonetheless, much of the reasoning for funding comes from Vassar’s call volume, according to Tignanelli.
She continued, “I file Freedom of Information requests every year and, on average, calls are usually somewhere in the 5000 range. They usually say that about ten percent of those calls are to Vassar. I have seen years where it’s about 500 calls. Just from August 29 of this year to September 28, there’s been 16 intoxication calls, and the vast majority are 18 to 19-year-old students, and there have been 35 calls for automatic fire alarms. That’s only in a one-month period.”
Tignanelli added that she sits in on every AFD meeting and often witnesses firefighters complain about the number of calls Vassar and other local colleges make in the name of protocol. In response, community member Herb Stoller remarked that while they may complain about attending to drunken students, they benefit from Vassar’s dependency on their services. He stated, “They like to get funds from these tax-exempt institutions directly to the fire district because that’s more money in their till. They’re getting a lot of opposition now from taxpayers because they’re paying the highest taxes in the county, in the state maybe. But if they can get a funding stream directly from local colleges, that makes life easier for them.”
Tignanelli pointed out that in recent years, shifts in representation on the Board of Fire Commissioners have illuminated some of these conflicts. Historically all five commissioners on the board had also been firefighters; however, in the last couple years Tignanelli’s husband and another at-large community member were elected to the board. “In Arlington, the contract that the firefighters have has been voted on by the professionals and firefighters themselves for years. So now there are two commissioners on the board who are looking out for taxpayer interest,” she said.
Stoller emphasized that the spending of the AFD isn’t sustainable for the taxpayers of the Arlington and greater Poughkeepsie area. “The tax burden on home owners, particularly senior citizens, has become very significant and is impacting people’s abilities to stay in their homes,” he said.
He and Tignanelli agreed that Vassar students and administration should be troubled about these implications. “Students should be concerned about the impact of taxes on residents in the community, especially on elderly people and people on fixed incomes. They should think about how their potential vote for the fire district commissioners elections may really impact someone who isn’t in a good financial situation. There’s a social responsibility there,” she said.
Taxpayer Gina Klein pointed out, “With the recession we’ve been in, the tax base has shrunk, but the tax levy for the fire district hasn’t. It’s gotten bigger and we’re all trying to deal with that.”
Currently, Vassar contracts out their ambulance services for events such as Halloween weekend when there have been historically high volumes of EMS calls. Stoller suggested that Vassar consider turning this protocol into a blanket policy. He stated, “Other colleges in the communities have taken it upon themselves to contract with private services to provide ambulences and EMS. This reduces the burden on the fire districts. My understanding is that the cost per student could lend itself to that. That could be something for Vassar College to consider. At a very nominal cost to the college and students, they could relieve this burden—the 10 percent of the calls—and take that issue off the table. They should be more proactive in solving this problem.”
Klein echoed Stoller’s proposition, adding “This sounds like a great short-term solution for the local community. It would also keep the College in control of the services being delivered to their students rather than feeling that they’re making a tax contribution to the fire district without knowing how that money is being spent. This way, there would be a very direct impact.”
Tignanelli shared that she and Dean of the College Christopher Roellke have exchanged email correspondence and have met in-person to discuss these matters.
In conclusion, Klein responded to the firefighters’ plea for students to use their vote to continue the relationship between the College and AFD, stating, “Students should think about how people are trying to manipulate your vote for their personal gain rather than your wellbeing.”