NY firefighters look to regroup after drug ring sweep
Mechanicstown Fire District Board Chairman Jay McClintock Jr. said the firefighters have been through hard times before and will do what they need to do to move on
By Lana Bellamy
MECHANICSTOWN, N.Y. — Jay R. McClintock Jr. said members of the Mechanicstown Fire Company are a family. They've been through hard times before and will do what they need to do to move on from the latest crisis.
McClintock, the Mechanicstown Fire District's board chairman, was occasionally at a loss for words in his office Wednesday morning while talking about two of the fire department's members who were rounded up in a massive drug ring sweep on Tuesday.
The firefighters learned between 9 and 10 a.m. Tuesday that Chief of Special Operations Dominick Guardino and volunteer firefighter Robert "Bob" Dunham were among the 29 people charged in connection with two drug rings that officials said trafficked fentanyl and cocaine in Orange County.
"News travels fast," McClintock said, his eyes cast down at his clasped hands.
The Mechanicstown firefighters were "shocked," he said.
Guardino, 55, of the Town of Wallkill, is one of four chiefs in the 50-member, volunteer-run Mechanicstown department. He has been with the company for 38 years, McClintock said.
Police charged Guardino on Tuesday with conspiring to obtain and sell drugs. Prosecutors in Orange County Court said he used his department-issued vehicle while obtaining pills. Law enforcement officials characterized Guardino as a "street level" pill dealer.
Dunham, 46, of Middletown, was charged with second-degree conspiracy and four counts of second-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. The two drug rings that were the subject of the multi-agency bust were separate, but connected by Dunham and Middletown Fire Department Lt. Paul G. Smith, according to police.
McClintock hopes people will not look down on the entire department because of the alleged actions of two people. Middletown officials hope for the same when it comes to the perception of their fire department in light of Smith's arrest, especially since police do not suspect other firefighters of wrongdoing.
"We're still here for our community. That's our job here," McClintock said of the 92-year-old department. "We've always been here for our community and will always be here in the community."
Asked what the way forward is for the department, McClintock paused to think.
"I'm not sure there is a good answer for that," he said.
The way forward for Middletown might start with a directive from Mayor Joe DeStefano setting rules for public access at the Central Firehouse.
Smith is accused of holding drug-related meetings and making deals from inside the firehouse on East Main Street, according to police.
DeStefano said he was told that Smith once held a meeting in the firehouse involving 18 biker-club members wearing their gang's colors.
The mayor plans to meet with the city attorney this week to outline potential measures at the firehouse to track who comes in and out of the busy firehouse, such as a sign-in book, cameras and other staff protocols.
DeStefano met with reporters at Orange Regional Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon. He was at the hospital with a family member, but felt it was important to continue talking to the public during this turbulent time.
DeStefano said he feels a responsibility to get to the bottom of how Smith was allegedly able to conduct his illicit business at the firehouse seemingly undetected by city officials.
DeStefano said the city has to get to work on regaining the community's confidence.
"If I was a resident of the City of Middletown, I would be pretty (ticked) off," DeStefano said. "And I'm a resident of the City of Middletown and I'm pretty (ticked) off."
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