Firefighters push back against pick for emergency services head

wwny Firefighters push back against pick for emergency services head

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Firefighters in St. Lawrence County have done more than just fight fires the past few weeks. They have been mounting resistance to a search committee's pick to head county emergency services.

“Unfortunately, that candidate had some baggage that would have followed him into this position. And it would have just made his job an uphill climb all the way,” said Joe Finnegan, County Fire Advisory Board chairman.

That candidate was Niel Rivenburgh. He was dogged by controversy at the end of a 12-year career as emergency services deputy director in Cayuga County. Fire departments there lost faith in him, according to the Auburn Citizen newspaper.

“Several of us took it upon ourselves to do some checking on this candidate and it was the opinion of most of us that he probably was not the right fit,” said Finnegan.

The county search committee does not include anyone from fire or EMS advisory boards. Monday, it looked like the search committee was ready to forward Rivenburgh’s name for approval by legislators.

Finnegan sent out an urgent email that read in part:

“I would ask that you contact your county legislators and ask them to vote NO and put the breaks on the process. And advertise the position again. … We cannot endorse hiring anyone who has issues attached like this gentlemen has.”

The fire advisory board has now been told St. Lawrence County will reopen its search. That search is now entering its fifth month. County Planning Director Keith Zimmerman has been doing double duty as emergency services director.

Search committee chairman Tony Arquiett, a county legislator from Massena, said he couldn’t comment on the search process when contacted Monday. But for now, it looks like emergency responders are being heard.

Attempts to reach Rivenburgh were not successful.

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