Son Blocked from Department, Trustee Sees ‘Payback’

    In what was otherwise an uneventful meeting, the Sag Harbor Village Board erupted Tuesday night when the son of one of the board members was denied admission to the Sag Harbor Fire Department.
    Kevin J. Duchemin, a trustee who has been a member of the Fire Department himself for over 20 years and is an East Hampton Village policeman, said he was “blindsided” when Mayor Brian Gilbride announced that his son, Kevin J. Duchemin Jr., could not join the department.
    The younger Mr. Duchemin, a student at Suffolk Community College, expected his membership in the department to become official at the meeting. He had looked forward to becoming a member since serving in the department’s junior program as a high school freshman, his father said.    
    The senior Mr. Duchemin told The Star yesterday that he was extremely disappointed, and that the decision had come without warning, without its even being mentioned during the 20-minute executive session prior to the public meeting. That his son was to be added to the insurance rolls as an active, probationary member of Gazelle Hose Company #1 was an item on the regular meeting’s agenda.
    In a letter faxed to The Star yesterday, Mr. Ducemin alleged that the mayor’s decision was “payback for me running for village trustee in June.” He noted that he had not received any support for his run. Although the by-law reads that “undergraduates attending local schools are not eligible for membership,” Mr. Duchemin wrote that the provision “is over 30 years old, and never has it been challenged until last night.” 
    “The bottom line is what the by-laws read,” Mayor Gilbride said at the meeting. “It has nothing to do with Kevin.” He had “voted for Kevin. . . . I asked for a interpretation. . . . The laws need to be changed,” he said.
    Reached yesterday, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the village board’s attorney, confirmed that he had been asked on Monday afternoon by Beth Kamper, the village clerk, to look at the section of the by-laws regarding membership, specifically the provision about undergraduates’ eligibility. She did so at the behest of the mayor, he said.
    Speaking for the Duchemins at the meeting, Robert Bori, secretary of the Fire Department and the village harbormaster, who was in the audience in his department uniform, said the by-law went back to the 1970s and that several college students had served in the department since that time. He said to the mayor, “You were sitting on the board on 1978. . . I got in. . . . We all went to Suffolk Community. . . I don’t see what the problem is.”
    “All of a sudden it’s my son and there’s a problem?” Mr. Duchemin asked Mayor Gilbride. “I ask you what kind of a message is the mayor sending to the youth of the community? Is he telling them either decide to be a volunteer or further your education?”
    Edward Gregory, another board member who is also a member of the Fire Department, said that the term “undergraduate” was ambiguous. He said that in the past it was thought to mean high school, with the provision adopted so that students did not run out of a classroom for a fire call. “Once you’re in college, it’s okay,” he said.
    “This is wrong,” Mr. Bori said. “That’s another three months this kid’s got to wait.” Muttering obscenities in a low voice, Mr. Bori left the meeting early.
    On a positive note during the meeting, the mayor praised the ambulance squad, which responded to calls at the height of last weekend’s snowstorm, noting that three calls had come at around midnight. He also thanked the Fire Department for accompanying the ambulances with a four-wheel drive truck.
    Mr. Gregory thanked Dee Yardley and the Highway Department for working 31 hours straight to clear the north end of the village for its HarborFrost celebration on Sunday. Sag Harbor was “packed like a summer weekend,” Mayor Gilbride said, and “looked like a Norman Rockwell village.” He congratulated everyone who made the event successful.
    The poor condition of a Howard Street house also was discussed at the meeting, as it has been previously. It was reported that no one has seemed to be taking care of the uninhabited house in recent years. Residents at the meeting called it an eyesore and public safety hazard. The mayor referred the matter to the village's building inspector, Tim Platt.