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Bridgehampton F.D. Sinks Dive Team Despite Volunteer Objections

Commissioners, chiefs cite high risks for operations which are often recovery, not rescue.

Ten years after it was formed, Bridgehampton Fire District's Dive Team was formally disbanded recently, despite outcries from its own members and surrounding fire departments.

The Board of Fire Commissioners — after hearing a recommendation from department chiefs — voted unanimously to dissolve the team of five divers and 13 members in total, which had also served on a town-wide rescue team. The commissioners cited high-risk events that are much more often recovery operations, as opposed to rescues.

"Why should volunteers risk their lives to conduct a recovery operation?" asked Steven Halsey, the chair of the Board of Fire Commissioners. "We're trying to limit the exposure of our membership and their families. There are people who get paid to do recoveries — police officers, Coast Guard, bay constables. We don't need people to risk their lives to recover a dead body."

However, the volunteers themselves — who were covered under the department's umbrella insurance policy — said that the decision leaves not only the dive team weaker throughout East Hampton Town, but also leaves Bridgehampton at risk and will likely strain other departments. More than a dozen letters were sent to the commissioners, saying the decision was "disturbing" and brought "dismay," "displeasure," and "disappointment" among other feelings.

"I can't believe the years of training, that started back when John O'Brien was only an assistant chief and through his tenure and on for the chiefs that followed him, are about to flush away the talent, hard work and camaraderie that has blossomed," wrote Raymond Kiesel, the deputy chief of Suffolk County Fire Academy.

"Everything in life is risky," said John Healey, a former fire chief in Bridgehampton and president of the East Hampton Town Wide Dive Team. The EHTWDT was created in 2010 at the behest of the town chiefs, as individual departments struggled to keep their dive teams afloat. "These guys are trained and certified, we have plenty of insurance covering them. I could see if someone has got hurt or died doing this. But we've only grown in size and interest."

Halsey said the commissioners began considering disbanding the dive team two years ago, the same year the district joined the EHTWDT. A May 6 letter from Chief Timothy Doran, also signed by First Assistant Chief Gary Horsburg and Second Assistant Chief Thomas Jenkins, detailed reasons why the chiefs recommended disbanding the team.

Doran and Horsburg were not available for comment. 

The chiefs concluded, "We feel that the risk versus reward ratio is far too high. It would be a great tragedy to injure or kill a member of our department at such a high risk, low potential reward situation."

The commissioners met two weeks later and formally voted to disband the dive team. Moving forward, the dive team is "allowed and encouraged to participate in all water rescue drills and operations with the Rescue Squad," which will claim responsibility of the dive team's two rescue boats.

Having no insurance coverage to perform recovery dives, neither Healey nor the other four divers will be able to perform dives. While their help as tenders and boat drivers would be welcome, divers are needed most, he said.

"We're called the town wide dive team because we're divers," Healey said. "We're not a townwide boat club ... We're a specialized team, like a heavy rescue squad or hazmat team, or rapid intervention team. Not just anyone can say, 'I'll just jump in and get him.' It doesn't happen that way."

JD Collector June 09, 2012 at 11:17 PM
What is sad is that you would make a comment like this on a public web site. I hope our fire council has the guts to call you in for it. Our chief has done as much if not more to try to help this department than any other chief that I can think of. He bacame a fire instructor to try to help train us and make us better and the haters ridiculed him. He became an EVOC instructor so that we didn't have to travel to Yaphank for this, the haters ridiculed him, he became a NIMS instructor so that it was easy for us to become compliant, once again the haters ridiculed him. We had Sunday morning drills, the young guys showed up but nobody else, we had a pump operators course, same thing. He arranged all sorts of county classes, only a few showed up. Our neighbors out numbered us ten to one. The same ten guys go to Yaphank every time. Our chief put more time into our juniors than any other chief. Now he is unpopular bacause he stands up to the haters and troublemakers and they want him out. Our council even tried to influence the last election and changed the rules to fit thier ideas. What have we become? The department makes the chief, the chief doesn't make the department. The department makes itself. It is time to get back to what we were before these self important individuals started to break us up. Get rid of these politicians. It is time to get behind each other and time to get behind our chiefs and commissioners. BHFD take charge of your own future.
P. Hayes June 10, 2012 at 02:24 AM
After some checking it seems that less than half of the fire departments in Suffolk county have dive teams. Some of them have lots more boating and water related activities than Bridgehampton. How can this be? Perhaps we should bash their elected officials and leaders, get their neighbors to write letters of complaint, and otherwise try to shame them into starting a dive team as well. If having volunteer dive teams is such a big deal why hasn't this come to light before now?
Gene S. June 10, 2012 at 10:52 AM
After all this information here, it seems that The Bridgehampton Fire Department had a Dive Team in place P.Hayes. They weren't looking to start a new one by bashing officials. The article itself speaks of it's success with a town wide team, so your comment about the rest of Suffolk County has no merit. This is like "fixing something that isn't broken" The tax payers had something, and some from of protection, and now they have less.
R.Roesel June 12, 2012 at 12:21 AM
jd collector - what is sad is that you chose not to post your name next to a comment ,it's freedom of speech so put your name up. Council could bring me in, as I could also go to them. You bring up some good points, but let's not forget all these training sessions and classes have been taught in house for years by past chiefs and by the county so by highlighting your message to make this look good you failed. The negative onslaut has been going on for a couple of years now as well as suspensions (remember January??) This whole dive team mess seems like a personal move against another member of our department. The chief and commissioners have done and said things in the past and that puts negative feelings in the department as well. Other ditricts have problems like this but when we ignore it, things never get better. This department has had a great history serving the community. I am not a hater or troublemaker, I have served our dept faithfully for over twenty-five years, but as I stated before, if we don't clear the air, things will never improve.
Terry Elkins June 28, 2012 at 05:57 PM
The notion of publicly discussing Fire Department business, as encouraged by the Editor of by Patch on June 6 - "Share your thoughts on the disbanding of the Bridgehampton Dive Team..." seems counter productive as well as a conflict of interest for the Editor who is a member of the BHFD. Yes we all have a right to share our opinions publicly but we shouldn't exploit that, we ought not to be witnesses against ourselves, especially in a public forum. Some comments made were totally unrelated to the issue and disparaging towards other members. Some good points for and against a dive team were noted but nothing mentioned was resolute. This might have been better carried on within the Department instead of over the Internet, as the issue most certainly won't be resolved this way. In the guise of public concern it wrongfully masks the true character of teamwork within our Department. While it's true we have our differences, when the call comes over all differences are set aside. Yes, at times our direction appears in conflict with our intentions. But no one in the public should misinterpret our singular mission as that of dedicated volunteer community service. We may not agree on how the dive team was disbanded or what to do now but we can all agree that The Bridgehampton Volunteer Fire Department is an outstanding organization with or without a dive team. Terry Elkins

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