At a time when the words “fake news” have become words the public hears daily from its political leadership, and the media has come under increased scrutiny for its fact-checking in its coverage of politics, I would hope and expect that the Great Neck Record would have tightened its fact-checking 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 Congress.
For this reason, I feel compelled, on behalf of my company, to call your attention to a key factual error in one of your articles. The article in question, “Michael Weinstock To Run For Congress,” written by Sheri ArbitalJacoby, incorrectly states that Weinstock is a “longtime volunteer firefighter with the Vigilant Fire Company.” Weinstock was a volunteer firefighter with the Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Company, Inc. From Feb. 5, 1990 until Sept. 30, 2001, when he chose to resign. During Weinstock’s relatively brief tenure as a member, he served no office. He was a “rank and file” member. Weinstock has not been a member of the department for almost two decades. 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, Weinstock neither volunteered to assist with those efforts nor participated in those efforts as a member of Vigilant.
Why does Vigilant take misinformation being printed by the 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, 24 hours a day 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 media, the many of us who have served for decades and continue to serve take exception.
Vigilant takes no position on Weinstock’s candidacy; he may be a perfectly able candidate for office. 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. We want the public to be provided with accurate information about its political candidates, and they should know that Weinstock is not a “longtime volunteer of Vigilant,” 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.
(Editor’s note: An internal review of the article mentioned in the above letter found no factual inaccuracies.)