Residents of the Bridgehampton Fire District will vote next Tuesday in a contested race for fire commissioner — a race that includes the department’s first female candidate for the position in the department’s 125-year history.
Elizabeth Whelan Kotz, an EMT and current first assistant captain of the EMS company, is the first woman running for fire commissioner in Bridgehampton. She is running against Fire Police Captain Charles Broadmeadow. The election will be held on Tuesday, December 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.
“I believe there could be a little more diversity on the board. I think it’s important,” Ms. Whelan Kotz said. “I believe in the fire department — I think it’s a great organization — and I feel like I can contribute.”
Ms. Whelan Kotz has been a member since 2015 and has previously served long stints on the school and library boards in Bridgehampton. In total, Ms. Whelan Kotz has 23 years of municipal experience, including 15 years as a trustee for the Hampton Library, where she served as president, secretary and treasurer over her tenure; and nine years on the Bridgehampton School Board of Education, where she held the office of president and vice president. For 15 years, she has been on the district’s external audit committee, having chaired it the past 10, so she has experience with budgets, facilities and policy writing.
“They all follow the same basic structure of New York State school law,” Ms. Whelan Kotz said. “I feel my experiences in the past — knowing how things should go and should not go — and in terms of bringing a board together, making decisions on what’s best for the taxpayers and what’s best for the department and group of volunteers will serve me well.
The fire district also hires employees, so those people have to be properly managed. I feel I have something beneficial to the board at large.”
Mr. Broadmeadow, a 22-year member of the fire department, is also hoping his years of experience will prove powerful to voters.
“The district is run by a group of guys that are excellent at what they do. I have nothing bad to say about any of them,” Mr. Broadmeadow said. “I’m just running in hopes to make things a little better, a little smoother.”
The nominee has previously been a fire chief and said besides his knowledge of what the members of the department may need, he just enjoys giving back to his community.
“I love it,” Mr. Broadmeadow said. “I just wish we could keep young people here to do the same thing. It’s hard for young people to be here and continue on the family tradition sometimes.”
On top of encouraging more female representation, Ms. Whelan Kotz said she’s pushing for more volunteers altogether.
“I’m constantly trying to get people to step up and volunteer in any capacity they can,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but the fact that people can join and they can be trained and they can go out and help people when they need it most is really an amazing feeling.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fire district secretary Pam Balserus said the firehouse will be sanitized, and there will be mandatory social distancing and mask wearing at all times during voting. Sanitary wipes and hand cleaners will also be available at each booth. She said if a resident feels uncomfortable about entering the building to let the ballot clerk at the door know and they will be handed a ballot and pen from that clerk, wearing a mask and gloves, to be filled out inside his or her car. The voter can fold the ballot in half after making a selection and slip it into an envelope for the clerk to take inside.
“During this very different year of 2020 it has come to the attention of the board that people living in the fire district have concerns regarding COVID-19,” Ms. Balserus said. “The board of fire commissioners wishes to ensure the public that all of the proper steps are being taken to ensure a safe and sanitary election, and it is the obligation of the ballot clerks to receive a ballot from all registered district residents who wish to vote.”
Mr. Broadmeadow says no matter what, he hopes residents come out and vote.
“Whoever wins, wins,” he said. “Elizabeth is a great person. Her head and heart are in the right place. Just come down and vote.”
Ms. Whelan Kotz said she believes her experience will help shape a more well-rounded and accessible board, and will not take the position lightly if elected.
“I did all these things to get to know some really amazing, wonderful people I never would have met,” Ms. Whelan Kotz said. “In the fire district, the community only votes for the commissioners, so you need to vote for someone who you feel is going to best represent your tax dollars and your interests. I do my homework; I read. I’ve been known to be a bit of a wonk, but that’s important — that you know what you’re signing, you know what you’re reading, you know what you’re agreeing to. There is responsibility here, and I take that very seriously.”