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One fire chief suspended, another resigns following PESH evaluation

09/05/2019 6:00 AM |

A Greenport Fire Department chief was recently suspended and another resigned following a July evaluation at the Third Street firehouse by the Public Employees Safety and Health Bureau, village officials confirmed.

Department Chief Jeffrey Weingart was suspended from his position until Sept. 18 following a special board of wardens meeting held Aug. 28. Roughly two weeks earlier, first assistant chief Susano Jimenez submitted a letter of resignation to the fire department secretary.

Second assistant chief James Kalin said Wednesday that a motion was made at the August meeting to approve “the intention to and further authorize the use of disciplinary action against Chief Weingart pertaining to the PESH investigation.” When department officials meet again Sept. 18, they will decide if Chief Weingart will retain his position.

Mr. Kalin said Mr. Jimenez did not mention the PESH inspection in his resignation letter, but Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said he believes they are related. Mr. Weingart was not present at the time of the inspection, Mr. Hubbard said. Because of his absence, Mr. Jimenez was responsible for providing certain paperwork to the PESH inspector, he added.

PESH requested documents related to risk assessments, mandated health courses and other safety matters. But the department did not have that paperwork “readily available” when the inspector was present, Mr. Hubbard said in a previous interview.

“Susano kind of felt overwhelmed, in my opinion,” the mayor said Friday. “He was trying to do everyone’s job … and some of it wasn’t his responsibility. The head chief didn’t show up, and the other two chiefs don’t know what to do, since this isn’t their responsibility.”

Following the inspection, PESH found the village, which oversees the fire department, in violation of eight health and safety standards.

PESH was created in 1980 to enforce safety and health standards promulgated under the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act and several other state standards, according to its website. The PESH Act sets occupational safety and health protection standards for all public sector employees, the website states.

According to online OSHA records, the violations are “pending.” Seven of them are labeled as “serious” and one is labeled “other.” The case was opened Jan. 29 and one of the violations has to be answered by Sept. 10.

Village officials met with the leadership of the Greenport Fire Department July 31 to discuss the potential for litigation of the PESH evaluation.

The mayor said village officials have “put together answers” for the eight violations filed and that village attorney Joseph Prokop will submit the appropriate documents to PESH “by the end of this week.”

As per village code, Mr. Kalin will assume the roles of both Mr. Jimenez and Chief Weingart. He said the fire department could vote to elect another chief in April if the positions are still open at that time.

“I’m a busy man right now, but I do have the support of the company captains acting as deputy chiefs, and community support,” he said.

At an Aug. 15 work session, Mr. Hubbard expressed frustration with fire department’s failure to submit bills and paperwork to the village.

“Well, we’ve talked about this over the past six months and I thought we were getting more compliance,” he said at that meeting. “Obviously, we’re not.”

The responsibility of turning over paperwork fell to Mr. Weingart, the mayor said, since he’s responsible for the department.

“It is a volunteer position, and we understand that,” he said. “But when someone takes the position of being chief, there are responsibilities that need to be taken care of. That’s all.”

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said the Village Board would need to formally pass a resolution to accept Mr. Jimenez’s resignation, which the board of wardens has already approved. No public documents currently available on the village website indicate Village Board approval of such a resolution.

The Suffolk Times submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Mr. Jimenez’s resignation letter and the detailed violations brought before the village last week. The request has not yet been completed.

Mr. Jimenez declined to comment. Mr. Weingart was not immediately available for comment.

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