At a time when the words “Fake News” have become two words that the public hears daily from its political leadership and when the news media has come under increased scrutiny for its fact-checking in its coverage of politics, I would hope and expect that the Great Neck News would have heightened fact-checking standards before printing articles about local political candidates.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with at least one article that appeared in your publication covering Michael Weinstock, a Great Neck Resident who aspires to become a member of the U.S. Congress. For this reason, I feel compelled, on behalf of my company, to call your attention a key factual error in one of your articles.
While there are several articles about Mr. Weinstock that have appeared in your publication in recent months with inaccurate references to him as a firefighter, the article in question from September 24, 2019 entitled “Suozzi helps secure grants for Great Neck Alert Fire Co.,” written by Robert Pelaez, is a recent one containing inaccurate information that I call to your attention.
Specifically, in that article Mr. Pelaez incorrectly states that Mr. Weinstock is a “local firefighter.” In fact, Mr. Weinstock was a volunteer firefighter with the Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Company, Inc. From February 5, 1990 until September 30, 2001, when he chose to resign from Vigilant.
During Mr. Weinstock’s relatively brief tenure as a member, he served no office. He was a “rank and file” member. Thus, Mr. Weinstock has not been a member of the department for almost two decades, so to refer to him as a “local firefighter” is not accurate.
Moreover, while Vigilant dispatched volunteer firefighters and volunteer EMS staff to assist with the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero immediately after 9/11, according to our records, Mr. Weinstock neither volunteered to assist with those efforts nor did he participate in those efforts as a member of Vigilant.
Why does Vigilant take misinformation being printed by the news media about someone’s volunteer firefighting credentials so seriously? Perhaps a bit of background about the volunteer fire service and what we do could put that into perspective.
According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, volunteers comprise 65 percent of firefighters in the United States. We are a majority of the people who provide fire protection in this country.
It is fire companies like Vigilant who, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week serve our communities as the first line of defense for many emergencies. We are not only responding to fires, but EMS emergencies, terrorist events, natural disasters, hazardous material incidents, and many other types of calls. We take our responsibilities seriously, and we do the job not for money or for praise, but because we have a drive to help others in need, even when it means risking our lives to keep the community safe.
Retention and recruitment of members is a continuous struggle for Vigilant and the entire volunteer fire service. For this reason, when a healthy and relatively young person who continues to live in our community voluntarily resigns from service and then almost two decades later seeks to promote himself as a longtime Vigilant volunteer in the news media, the many of us who have served for decades and continue to serve, take exception to this inaccurate news reporting.
To be clear, Vigilant takes no position on Mr. Weinstock’s candidacy; he may be a perfectly able candidate for office, and that is for each voter to decide on their own.
However, he is not a firefighter, he is not a Vigilant, and that should be made clear to the general public. When any person seeks Congressional office, in this day and age more than ever, we believe that the facts matter.
Therefore, we want the voting public to be provided with accurate information about its political candidates, and to this end, they should know that Mr. Weinstock is not a “local firefighter” and to our knowledge, he is not, and has not been, an active member of any volunteer fire department since 2001.
- Philip Katz, President
Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Company, Inc.