On Tuesday December 12, Highland residents will have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates who are seeking a five-year term on the Board of Fire Commissioners. Voting is scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Highland Fire House located at 25 Milton Avenue, Highland.
Stephen DiLorenzo is seeking re-election to the board. He was first elected as a Commissioner in 1998 and in the last 10 years has served in the position of Chairman.
DiLorenzo joined the Highland Hose Company in 1969 and has served as a Line Officer, Assistant Chief and as Chief of the department. He has worked on a number of committees and has been a Trustee for 25 years. He also served as the Grand Marshall for the department’s 125th anniversary parade.
DiLorenzo said the fire department has been a big part of his life, saying, “it is in my blood. My father was a fireman, was a life member and a Commissioner, and I felt that I wanted to be a part of it,” adding that his father-in-law, Gordon Bush, was also a Commissioner. “I guess it was in the making that I would be in the same company.”
DiLorenzo is retired from his heating oil business that he owned for more than 40 years. He said he brings to the job of Commissioner his management skills, “and a commitment to the public.”
DiLorenzo said he has attended a “tremendous” number of seminars and classes relating to fire fighting work.
“Whenever something new comes down from the state [regulation] I always try to stay on top of it and I think I have a lot to offer,” he said.
In the last three years the department has purchased a ladder truck, three pumpers and two chief vehicles. DiLorenzo said the ladder truck cost $1.3 million and collectively the 23 pumpers hit $3 million. The two chief cars were $90,000 for a total of $4,390,000.
“Every two years we try to buy one and rotate them down. The two weren’t totally worn out but one was 10 years old and the other was 12 years old, and we try to keep them dependable for the guys,” he said. “The three pumpers that we sold were each over 25 years old [1994, 1996, 2001],” saying the department realized significant savings by buying the new ones all within one year.
Several years ago, two fire department’s budgets included a total of $130,000 that was supposed to be used for an assistant to the chief but was not filled. Instead, it went into the General Fund, and was spent on some major repairs needed at Station #1, roof issues, work on a generator and a replacement of an outdated alarm system at Station #2.
“It wasn’t spent frivolously, but on things we had to do,” DiLorenzo said.
Separately, the Commissioners hired a full time secretary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting in January 2023 at about $70,000 in salary and benefits.
“It’s making life so much easier for the Commissioners and a difference for the Chief, DiLorenzo said.
DiLorenzo estimated the Fire Department’s budget for 2023 is $1.3 million. He said they do receive some revenues from the Town of Lloyd, the Ambulance Service, and from Verizon. He said for fire service, residents are paying about $113/$1,000 of assessed valuation so for a home assessed at $350,000 pays $395 a year.
DiLorenzo said he is proud of the Highland Hose Company.
“I’ve talked to a lot of fire departments and people tell me that we set the standard for a lot of different things that we do,” he said. “Are we the best at everything? I think we are and a lot of department look up to us and we have good relationships with all of our neighboring fire departments.” He singled out Chief Peter Miller for helping to create, “a much better relationship with the City of Poughkeepsie than we ever had. I just think the department is well run; it’s not all me; there is no “I” in team. I am really proud of what we do and what we’ve accomplished.”
James Balint is running for the Board of Fire Commissioners. He joined the fire service in 1978, has been a member of two companies, was a Captain in his old company, is an Interior firefighter in Highland and is President of the Hose Company. He keeps track of medical issues as it relates to the department, supported moving the LOSAP program down to the 855 level. This is a program that provides a monthly or regular cash award (varies by location) after serving a specific number of years with a volunteer fire, rescue or EMS department.
Balint is not in favor of staying with First Care for the physical exams for its members. He said the physicals they have received from the Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, “are much more intense. We have to put an air-pack on, run on a treadmill. I think the physicals at First Care are going to miss things.”
Balint said physicals need to be exercise-driven and more challenging because being in shape is important when fighting fires.
Balint acknowledges that spending is always an issue.
“It’s the what, when, where and how of the need at a certain point,” he said.
Balint was asked about the department spending more than $4 million for trucks and vehicles in a relatively short amount of time.
“It might be [but] did we wait too long to pull the trigger, that’s the key question right now,” he said. “It’s easy to second guess things like that – did we wait too long, was it because covid was going on?”
If elected, Balint believes, “there has to be better justification for things. Did we get a good price for the pumpers, yes, but what is the plan and have more meetings about it and what is the plan and our next step down the road.”
Balint said of immediate concern is replacing the Rescue Truck, but much of this will fall upon the next generation of firefighters when consideration of new trucks comes up in 25 years.
On the $130,000 that was not used to fund a position for the Chief, Balint said he does not know why it was not returned to the taxpayers but the department this year hired a much needed full time secretary.
Balint said when he announced his run for the Board of Fire Commissioners, he did receive some criticism, “but this is a Democracy and I am entitled to run for a position. I am not running for Chairman of the Board because that position is elected every year by the five fire commissioners, someone they feel is the best choice for chairman.”