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Cayuga County Fire Training Tower

Cayuga County Emergency Services Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh, far right, gives county legislators a tour of the Cayuga County Fire Training Tower complex and emergency trailers in 2018. On Monday, multiple area fire chiefs expressed a lack of confidence in Rivenburgh at the office.

In the wake of multiple sudden resignations in the Cayuga County Emergency Management Offices, fire chiefs from departments across the area have questioned how the office can continue under its current deputy director.

At a meeting of the county's Fire Advisory Board Monday, fire chiefs from Moravia, Scipio, Sempronius, and more towns and villages described the EMO as dysfunctional, which they largely attributed to Deputy Director of Emergency Services Niel Rivenburgh.

In late January, newly appointed Director W. Douglas Whittaker and longtime department employee and then-Deputy Director Maureen Conley resigned abruptly.

With Rivenburgh left as the department's only full time employee, multiple chiefs Monday raised a number of concerns about his performance, and doubted that he should continue to hold a leadership position.

Complaints raised regarding Rivenburgh included a lack of preparation for major emergency events, a lack of communication, failure to properly distribute equipment, and more.

Sempronius Fire Chief Tyler Bloodgood said that Rivenburgh does not respond to emergency radio dispatches outside of working hours, and also questioned why Rivenburgh, who lives in Elbridge, is provided with a county-owned vehicle.

"We've lost one great resource and another resource that was there for 23 days because of somebody we've already had an issue with," Bloodgood said of the resignations.

Scipio Car Three Fire Chief Tim Weir said Rivenburgh had denied his department access to county equipment for training purposes, saying it was too expensive to do so, according to Weir. Weir also said Rivenburgh referred to his department as "whackers," a slang term for civilians who show up to emergency scenes for fun.

Rivenburgh said Wednesday he could not comment on many of the allegations as he was attending an emergency management conference Monday and lacked first-hand knowledge of the complaints or concerns about gaps in the office's work.

"In my tenure here, I've worked diligently to meet the needs of our community members and I have the utmost respect for all our fire departments, emergency agencies, public safety agencies in Cayuga County," Rivenburgh said. "If I don't know that there's gaps, I can't address them."

Based on The Citizen's initial reporting of the meeting, Rivenburgh said some of the problems raised had already been addressed, including fit tests, training class certifications and radio equipment procurement requests.

Several of the chiefs Monday, including Bloodgood and Moravia Fire Chief Bill Andersen, asked why the Legislature and County Administrator J. Justin Woods had done little to address the situation when, according to letters sent to the Legislature this week, issues regarding Rivenburgh had been raised for some time.

According to Andersen, and several other chiefs on Monday, their complaints were seemingly enough to derail Rivenburgh's appointment to Director of Emergency Services in July. At that time, a resolution before the Legislature providing as much was pulled before the July meeting.

Andersen asked, given that, why Rivenburgh was still in a leadership position, noting that the option existed for state resources to come in and "plug the holes" in the department while personnel changes were made.

"When somebody’s given the opportunity to manage the situation and it was not managed, that doesn’t give me hope," Andersen said in a phone interview Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Woods said he understood the fire chief's frustration, noting that it's a challenge to explain personnel changes given legal restrictions.

"At the end of the day, we received voluntary resignations that weren't requested and we've moved forward with the present staff and we have and are attempting to have a conversation with the fire community on what's working and what's not working," Woods said.

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Staff writer Ryan Franklin can be reached at (315) 282-2252 or ryan.franklin@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @RyanNYFranklin

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County government reporter