Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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February 24th, 2012

Dive Team at Odds with Martinkovic

The Sullivan County Dive Team and Public Safety Commissioner Richard Martinkovic have been involved in a bitter feud. The firefighters who make up the team are angry with the way they have been treated and say they are not going to take it anymore.

The battle has become so heated that rumors surfaced Martinkovic wanted to disband the team altogether, so divers formed a not for profit, Sullivan County Dive and Rescue Team, to combat him.

Last week I attended a training session in Fallsburg and I heard an earful. Legislators Gene Benson and Ira Steingart were also present.

According to Captain Joseph Ratner the County is not following the Incident Command System. “We are a home rule state and the Fire Chief is the incident commander, not the County Fire Coordinator (Martinkovic) or his assistants. This has not been the case involving recent calls.”

Ratner claims there is a lack of communication and Martinkovic did not tell Chiefs or members of policy changes. “These new policies impeded response of members since we had to first wait for a battalion coordinator to be contacted for permission to dispatch the team.”

Ratner says the County offers little support in training divers and tenders. “Whether it is personnel or monetary support, this only comes from individual divers and their volunteer fire departments.

The Dive Team has the capabilities to perform a water rescue; a submerged victim water rescue; surface ice rescue; submerged victim, under-the-ice- rescue; recovery of victims; and evidence recovery.”

Barry Hoovis says members purchase and maintain equipment and pay for most training. “Two years ago we needed a certificate of insurance and the “Bureau of Fire” advised us that we didn’t exist, yet they insist on dictating unsafe policy to us.”

Martinkovic maintains members are appointed by chiefs and respond as requested under the “Bureau of Fire” as per county policy and procedures. He says displeasures will be addressed at upcoming meetings with chiefs.

Martinkovic says he believes issues will be resolved. “We will take note of the Fire Chiefs comments as to how they would like to proceed since they are the authority to appoint members and have command of the teams operation during a call in their fire district. My job is to coordinate their requests and support their command.”

As for the county paying for equipment and training, Martinkovic notes dive team members are from fire departments owned by Fire Districts and are “employees” of those districts with a tax levy for operations. “The district has a responsibility to provide equipment and training and meet industry standards. It gets into these legal issues not everyone wants to hear especially in these days of very tight budgets.”

Carl Houman of Monticello’s Fire District said Dive Team members have “high integrity, unmatched loyalty and enormous energy.”

Benson invited them to address their concerns at the next Public Safety meeting. “I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of volunteers, always willing to give so much and receive so little in return.” Steingart echoing Benson’s sentiments noted the many hours of training needed to be prepared when emergencies arrive.

Expressing gratitude in bringing the dive team’s issues public, Sharon Doyle summed it up best while discussing the dangerous job of rescue and recovery. “Above all, I hope that cooperation between entities makes for a safe water recreation season. I do my duty and would like to know that I will not be further tasked by politics and egos.”

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