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Fire training

Firefighters dealt with a fire at interior fire training at the Cayuga County Fire Training Tower in Auburn in December. Fire chiefs from across the county met with the Cayuga County Fire Advisory Board Monday to discuss concerns with the county's Emergency Management Office following sudden resignations at the end of January.

Following resignations that left the Cayuga County Emergency Management Office in January short-staffed, fire chiefs from departments throughout the county met Monday to discuss a way forward while the office is rebuilt.

Both newly appointed Director W. Douglas Whittaker and longtime Deputy Director Maureen Conley of the EMO office resigned suddenly at the end of January, leaving the department with just one full-time employee, Deputy Director Niel Rivenburgh, and 15 part-time employees.

In a resignation letter, Whittaker offered no reason for leaving after less than a month in office. Conley's letter said she could "no longer be a part of what's happening in this County, or more specifically in the Office of Emergency Services."

Citing personnel matters, county officials have declined to discuss the resignations.

At a meeting of the Cayuga County Fire Advisory Board, multiple fire chiefs met with both the board and several county legislators to discuss how to maintain services in the short-term and what shape the EMO should take long-term.

To fill coverage gaps following the resignations, Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods said he had spoken with staff at both Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office and the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services about securing support to effectively shore up the EMO.

While working with the state to determine what shape help may come in, Woods acknowledged the concerns raised by the chiefs and asked for their help moving forward.

"This is a challenge and it requires all hands on deck to resolve it," Woods said.

Some of the concerns raised by the chiefs included the inability of the EMO to develop or provide a complete listing of specialized equipment in the county, breakdowns in communication between the county and fire departments, and problems in equipment procurement, among others.

Several chiefs also expressed disappointment with county legislators and officials, questioning if they had been truly paying attention to problems within the EMO.

"We all believe the same beliefs as to how this county is letting us down," Scipio Car Three Fire Chief Tim Weir said.

After listening to the concerns, Legislators Andrew Dennison, R-Ira and Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, said it would be critical for fire personnel to be involved in deciding what shape the office takes in the long term.

"We're listening, we're going to do something about it," Petrus said.

Multiple fire chiefs said Monday they would bring their concerns to the next full Legislature meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26.

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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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