Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Police Comissioner Tim Sini speaks at a press conference about the department’s success in 2016. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We are now safer than we have ever been before in Suffolk County and that’s because of the hard work of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department,” Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced recently.

Sini reported on the final 2016 crime statistics at SCPD Headquarters Jan. 6, which showed the county ended the year with the lowest levels of crime ever recorded in the history of the department — with the exception of homicides.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined the commissioner in presenting the historic crime drop.

“Public safety is my top priority,” Bellone said. “I know I speak for everyone in Suffolk County when I say we are proud of the police, proud of the work they do every day for us, proud of the courage and bravery they demonstrate and proud that they’ve clearly made the county one of the safest places to live anywhere in our country. These statistics speak very clearly about the work they’ve been doing.”

Image by Victoria Espinoza.

According to Sini, who just wrapped up his first year as the youngest SCPD commissioner ever appointed, compared to crime stats in 2015, violent crime (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) decreased by 10.9 percent and property crime went down 5.2 percent, with an overall 5.7 percent reduction of total crime.
“We see the crime going down and enforcement going up and that’s, obviously, not an accident,” Sini said. “We are a problem-solving police department. When [we] came into office here, my leadership team and I made it clear we’re going to be focused on opiate addiction, firearms and gang violence, as well as traffic fatalities.”

Under Sini’s leadership, the SCPD launched several initiatives and utilized 21st century policing methodologies that gave way to precision policing, intelligence-led policing and community-based policing.
In tackling the opiate epidemic sweeping Suffolk the last few years, Sini re-engaged a partnership with federal law enforcement officers, including five detectives, to target high-level drug dealers active in the communities.

He also loaded up on staff in the department’s narcotics section to roll out a hotline (631-852-NARC) where residents can anonymously report drug dealings going in areas where they live and even get cash rewards for any tips that lead to arrests. So far, since launching the hotline, the department has received more than 1,300 tips from anonymous civilians.

In a previous interview with TBR News Media, Sini said the hotline has led to a 140 percent increase in the amount of search warrants issued by August; 400 drug dealers have been arrested; the police department has seized more than $1 million in drug money; and is on pace to confiscate more illegal firearms than ever before.

Additionally, SCPD has saved approximately 779 individuals using Narcan, the anti-opiate overdose antidote.
Narcotics search warrants alone have increased by 118.2 percent — 192 in 2016 compared to 88 in 2015.
Sini said there’s been an initiative in partnership with the Highway Patrol Unit to help reduce distracted driving, aggressive driving and speeding, educate the public about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving and reach out to municipalities in relation to improving conditions on the road.

This has also proved effective.

Image by Victoria Espinoza.

Suffolk has seen a decrease in motor vehicle crashes by 2.5 percent, motor vehicle crashes resulting in fatalities by 29.9 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 29.4 percent.

SCPD Chief Stuart Cameron said the reality of Suffolk today in regards to safety has long been dreamed about.

“Throughout my 33 years with SCPD, I’ve heard people wistfully referring to the olden days of yore where you could leave your doors unlocked and things were much safer … as statistics bear out, we’re living in those times right now,” the chief said. “Not that I’m encouraging anybody to leave their doors unlocked, but crime stats have truly never been better. And without the public, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these results.”

While homicides have risen, with 34 recorded in 2016 compared to 25 in 2015, Sini said that number can be largely attributed to heavy MS13 gang activity in areas like Brentwood, for which aggressive strategies have been enforced by Sini to “decimate MS13 and these other gangs.”
“We collect intelligence of known gang members in the county, assign gang officers and gang enforcers to particular [communities], and we’ve seen a dramatic decline in crime and gang violence since the initiative,” he said.

Through Sini’s creation of what he calls the Firearms Suppression Team — a mix of officers and detectives who have worked to prevent gun-related violence — SCPD has had a 50.9 percent increase in illegal firearms seizures, 507 recovered in 2016 compared to 336 in 2015, as well as a 4.4 percent decrease in shooting incident and trigger pulls.

By taking away a criminal’s tool of the trade — firearms — the commissioner said “you can make a significant dent in violent crime.”

Despite the uptick in homicides, he said preventing them is a top priority.
“If you look at all the hamlets and overall crime reduction, we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished but we’re not complacent,” Sini said. “One homicide is one too many and we’re going to keep doing what we have to do to ensure the safety of Suffolk County residents.”

Leisure Village residents listen to Suffolk County Legislature Sarah Anker as she voices their frustrations and worries regarding the recent PSEG rate hike. Photo by Kevin Redding

Local seniors are getting the cold shoulder from PSEG Long Island electric rate increases, which have forced those on fixed incomes to make difficult and dangerous living decisions  — and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) led a protest against the rate hikes with vocal seniors from Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll at the Leisure Village clubhouse in Ridge Jan. 10.

Representatives from the senior communities gathered to voice their concerns that the recent revisions to the rates have been harmful and “debilitating” to them. Some residents, of which a large majority are in their 70s and 80s, have to debate whether or not to heat their homes and pay for food or heat their homes and pay for their prescription medications because they just can’t afford all three.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker protests the PSEG rate hike. Photo by Kevin Redding

Carole Leonard, president of the board of directors at Leisure Village, said it’s “insane” seniors have to live this way.

“They’re absolutely freezing. They keep electric so low and some are still seeing [up to] $600-$700 electric bills each month,” she said. “There are residents who sit in their house with blankets on them because they’re cold and they’re afraid to turn the heat up because of the rates.”

Mike Elkins, a retired resident, has been reduced to turning the heat on in just one room in his condo.

“It’s really bad,” he said. “As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”

The revisions from PSEG at the start of the new year have made rates higher than the originally announced $3.50 increase; so now the average customer using 775 kWh of energy in a month will see an increase of $7.57, or 5.4 percent, in their total energy bill. Customers who use 762 kWh will see their bills increase by $6.44. Because residents living in Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll rely on electricity for everything, even cooking, their use of kilowatt-hours in the winter is projected to double and even triple the average 775 projected by PSEG, which would bring their increases to $15-$22.

The LIPA bill also includes a decoupling charge and delivery service adjustment fees, all implemented in 2016 giving LIPA permission to recoup revenue that fluctuates due to weather, green energy and labor agreements. The energy costs hit seniors the hardest.

At the protest, Anker, with full support of the residents as well as AARP, pushed for the PSEG board to revisit the rate increases and consider the impact the hikes have on the overall senior population.

“As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”

—Mike Elkins

The legislator also called for New York State to create an independent utility consumer advocate — a special department that will provide oversight and accountability and possibly challenge heightened rates and fees. There are only 10 states in the country that don’t have this department, and New York is one of them.

She said California saved consumers $4 billion since establishing its own advocate agency.

“Having the consumer advocate would level the playing field between the consumer and the utility companies and we’d be in better shape,” Anker said. “The most important thing we can do is communicate.”

Anker said she hopes the message reaches PSEG Long Island, the New York Public Service Commission, the New York Department of Public Service and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who was speaking in Farmingville the same day calling for 30 miles of wind turbine farms in Montauk, as part of his initiative to have 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“How dare Gov. Cuomo,” said Leonard. “We’re gonna pay for something vacationers will have when we can’t, at this moment, pay for our food, medication and keep warm? Something has to be done. We need a senior advocate on the Public Service Commission who’s going to speak for us. We are tired of these rate heights pushed on us.”

Shay O’Reilly, an organizer with the Sierra Club, speaks during the protest. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the wake of the decision of President-elect Donald Trump (R) to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, along with climate-change doubters to top federal positions, Long Island residents and economy activist groups called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to #TakeTrumpOn and fight against the climate-change denial of the incoming administration.

Holding up signs reading “NY Renews” and “Make NY A Climate Leader,” the group of protesters rallied in front of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Office in Hauppauge Dec. 21, urging Cuomo to move the state and country forward and pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in his upcoming 2017 state budget.

The act would attempt to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change through a combination of measures aimed at reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions and improving the state’s resiliency against future extreme weather events, like Hurricane Sandy.

Long Island Progressive Coalition member K.C. Alvey said, at the protest, that climate change needs to be acknowledged.

“Climate change is real, it’s urgent, and our communities are already being impacted by climate disasters,” she said. “We need to be dealing with this now and rapidly transitioning to a clean-energy economy that works for all of us.”

“If you don’t believe there’s global warming, just wait until the next full moon high tide and try to drive along the South Shore of Long Island. You can’t do it. It’s flooded.”

— Jack Finkenberg

Alvey said Cuomo has expressed his support for many of these environmental policies. In August, the governor announced the approval of New York’s Clean Energy Standard, which requires 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, with a phase-in schedule throughout the next several years.

“We need him to codify this into law and move these plans forward,” Alvey said. “We’re not just calling for clean energy by any means necessary … we’re calling for a just and equitable transition to 100 percent clean energy and making sure that no one is left behind.”

During the course of his campaign and since winning the election, Trump has voiced his skepticism of the scientific view that humans cause global warming.

The president-elect has tweeted out “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese” in order to topple the United States in manufacturing, and he has expressed interest in canceling the Paris climate accord and undoing clean air and water protections. This potential action has caused distress among scientists and climate activists.

Shay O’Reilly, an organizer with the not-for-profit Sierra Club, called the Trump administration “a set of billionaires who seek to further enrich themselves and defend what they have already accumulated by reinforcing our present reliance on fossil fuels.”

O’Reilly said the new cabinet and their beliefs threaten the immediate survival of marginalized colonies from New York to the South Pacific, but especially Long Island — a uniquely vulnerable location to climate change, with so much coastline.

O’Reilly said what’s done in New York can affect the rest of the country and the world, should it be decided to pass the legislation.

“State action on climate change is not just a political necessity, but a moral imperative,” O’Reilly said. “Cuomo needs to lead the way and listen to the people of New York.”

Jack Finkenberg, from the New York Communities for Change coalition, said there are real examples of global warming all over the world.

“If you don’t believe there’s global warming, just wait until the next full moon high tide and try to drive along the South Shore of Long Island,” he said. “You can’t do it. It’s flooded. We need to protect our communities, healthwise, with the rising rates of skin cancer and respiratory disease. Global warming is a serious thing and it’s got to stop.”

Alvey ended the protest by leading the group in a call-and-response chant.

“What do we want?” she yelled. “Renewable energy,” the protesters shouted back.

“When do we want it?” she asked. “Now,” they answered.

Inside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has sent a clear message to undocumented immigrants who choose to break the law, by announcing the county will no longer need a judge’s order before detaining and holding illegal inmates wanted by federal immigration officials.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. File photo from Kristin MacKay

The policy reversal, which DeMarco believes will be good “for the country, not just the county,” has taken Suffolk off the list of “sanctuary cities” — regions that protect undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws in the United States. The county’s removal from the list is something DeMarco has been in favor of for some time.

The sheriff initiated a review of the sanctuary policy alongside county Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) as soon as the policy was adopted more than a year ago, after concerns that it creates public safety problems by allowing the release of criminal immigrants back to the communities as opposed to letting agents within Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, work on deporting them.

Although the announcement has been met with opposition from various immigration advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, DeMarco said nothing has really changed in regards to how undocumented immigrants in the system are handled. He said this merely narrows in on those who entered the country illegally, have committed and been convicted of crimes and have found themselves in the criminal justice system.

According to DeMarco, “it’s not necessarily a policy change,” because since he became sheriff in 2006, ICE agents have been stationed in the county’s correctional facilities. For the past 10 years they have been putting detainers on inmates eligible for release who were either convicted of felonies, “significant misdemeanors,” three or more misdemeanors not considered significant or pose a threat to national security. The department had free reign to explore and investigate any inmate that came in.

It hadn’t been an issue to hold anyone of federal interest until the involvement of the ACLU in 2014.

DeMarco said he received a letter from the group citing two federal lawsuits stating that holding illegal immigrants solely on detainer without a judicial warrant would lead to an onslaught of lawsuits. In these cases, ICE asked municipalities to hold these inmates for an extra 48 hours after they normally would’ve been released to give the agents time to conduct their investigations and pick them up for potential deportation. The courts ruled this as a violation of the immigrants’ Fourth Amendment rights, to illegal search and seizure, without probable cause or a warrant.

“[DeMarco is] doing exactly the right thing both for the community and for the federal government.”

— Jessica Vaughan

In October, DeMarco had a meeting with the Department of Homeland Security and was advised that ICE had adjusted its detainer and administrative warrant paperwork to include probable cause, which means agents can now hold onto someone for an extra 48 hours without requiring a signed warrant from a judge if they are suspected to have immigrated illegally.

DeMarco said the change isn’t too significant in Suffolk County.

“People are trying to make an issue out of something that’s been going on here for more than 10 years,” he said. “This isn’t a problem for the county because ICE agents are stationed at the jail. In a rural county upstate or out West where there isn’t ICE presence within a certain amount of miles, it makes sense for them to hold them for 48 hours.”

While the reversal comes less than a month before the Trump administration inherits the White House and leads a much-anticipated attack against sanctuary city and immigration policies, DeMarco insists that the shift isn’t political.

“When ICE changed their paperwork, they didn’t know who the president was going to be,” DeMarco said. “They were just addressing concerns found in federal lawsuits.”

According to a representative from the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent not-for-profit that removed Suffolk from its list of sanctuary cities, ICE agents don’t go around patrolling the streets looking for criminal immigrants. Instead, agents depend on local law enforcement, like the sheriff’s office, to keep them in custody so they can be deported — “otherwise they flee.”

“[DeMarco is] doing exactly the right thing both for the community and for the federal government,” CIS director of policy studies, Jessica Vaughan, said. “It was his initiative that resulted in the reversal of the policy. Full cooperation with ICE is going to help Suffolk County with some of the more pressing public safety problems, like the resurgence of MS13 [street gang] activity there.”

Cilmi said this is a step in the right direction.

“There’s no cause for protesting because, from a practical standpoint, nothing has really changed and it has nothing to do with undocumented immigrants who are living here,” he said. “As long as they’re following the law, it doesn’t affect them at all. Those who aren’t will see this is not going to be tolerated.”

He said he suspects that the vast majority of the immigrant population living in the county — documented or undocumented — would be supportive of policies that affect drug dealers and gang members who continue to “wreak havoc” in the areas where they live.

“No one wants crimes in their communities,” he said.

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Members of the Smithtown Youth Bureau hard at work. Photo from Stacey Sanders.

Smithtown is well aware that a community can’t prosper without happy and healthy kids, which is why it continues to give its young people a voice in how things operate.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) announced the appointment of four residents to the Youth Advisory Board, a group of 19 high school students and nine adults from across the town who work alongside the Smithtown Youth Bureau and advise the town board on ways to address and accommodate the needs of young people in the community, at a public meeting Jan. 3.

The newly appointed members, Esther Jung, Julie Delaney, Denise Massimo and Kathleen Knoll Ehrhard, were accepted through an application on the town board website. As part of the process, each candidate had to write a brief letter to Vecchio detailing what they would like to accomplish in terms of youth matters and why they believed they would be valuable assets to the town.

For Jung, a 16-year-old junior at Commack High School, an issue she’s passionate about is her generation’s overattachment to technology, which she said she hopes to find a solution to in her time on the Advisory Board.

“Everyday at school I see students on their phones in class and I think the community would benefit if we brainstormed on how to limit teens and adolescents from consuming their time with technology,” Jung said. “We could have a more face-to-face conversation with people and go back to where we were once before.”

Each of the new members’ terms commenced Jan. 1, 2017, and will run through Dec. 31, 2019.

According to town code, Smithtown recognizes its youth deserves special attention and assistance in dealing with their needs, and the Youth Board acts as the voice of Youth Bureau policy.

With a third of its members under the age of 21, the board is certainly a fitting representation of its target demographic.

“These are young people that know how to interact with other young people,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “They go to schools to help out, are involved with various local activities, and serve as liaisons between the town board and young people. I see it as a great interaction and we’re very proud to have them.”

Members meet once a month to develop and coordinate activities that help make the lives of their families and other children better and encourage community participation.

Just in the past year, the Advisory Board worked together with the Youth Bureau to bring Global Youth Service Day to multiple school districts, celebrating and mobilizing those in Smithtown under 21 who have improved their communities through service, as well as a Safe Summer Nights Pool Night at the Smithtown Landing Country Club for grades 6 and up. The board has developed community education seminars and empowerment programs for students focusing on a range of important topics, like the dangers of underage drinking.

A fundraising campaign was held to provide school supplies to kids in need as well as a food drive for Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. Working predominantly with schools, volunteers help the bureau provide enrichment programs, intervention programs for kids experiencing difficulties or exhibiting behavioral issues, substance abuse prevention programs and anger management programs.

Stacey Sanders, executive director of the Youth Bureau and secretary of the Advisory Board, said the board has a needs assessment committee, a youth empowerment committee, a social media committee and a board training committee.

“The board helps keep the supervisor and [town officials] aware of the needs and beliefs of what’s needed, what residents are actually feeling — adults and youth — and the problems faced in the community,” she said.

Alexis Davitashivili, a junior at Commack High School who joined the Advisory B`oard in September, said her favorite initiative so far was when she and other student volunteers went to a local grocery store and placed approximately 1,100 stickers on alcohol cases to try and put a stop to underage drinking. The stickers read “Your Actions Matter! Preventing underage drinking is everyone’s responsibility.”

“It’s important for young people to get involved in their community because they’re kind of the faces of the community,” she said. “Although older people are involved, not all younger children listen to adults. Hearing things from a teen or someone close to your age is going to have more of an affect on them and the community as a whole. It might even help the adults open their eyes, like ‘oh if a child can do it, so can I.’”

If you’re a high school student or adult interested in joining the Youth Advisory Board, call the Youth Bureau at 631-360-7595 for more information.

Winter is here on the North Shore, and Brookhaven Town is upgrading their system to handle snow removal. FIle photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Brookhaven is embracing the modern age to help prepare for severe weather.

With snowstorm season fast approaching, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) is making it a whole lot easier to clear roadways with the roll out of a new app designed to help foremen streamline the process of contacting hired drivers and achieve efficiency through technology.

The “call-out app,” created by Losquadro and staff in the Division of Information Technology, will do away with the old system in which foremen had to go to their offices and make calls to each individual driver to confirm who was working, what town to respond to and what time their services would be needed. With 1,194 active snow removal vendors throughout the district, that process could take up to four hours — precious time that could be better spent plowing the streets.

A test done on Brookhaven Town Incident Management shows which vendors have and have not responded to call-outs. Image from Brookhaven Town

With the new app, drivers provide their cell phone numbers and email addresses, and from the comfort of their iPads or iPhones, foremen can simply send a text or email about the specifics of the job — what yard to report to, what equipment or vehicle to use, what time to start — and get instant yes or no responses as to who’s available to work.  Foremen are able to see, in real time, who is coming in, who isn’t, and can dictate how many total vendors will be in specific areas.

Address hyperlinks are also included, so with the click of a button, the driver is brought directly to a map with directions to the given job site.

By automating the process and having such an immediate call-out, snow removal vendors can get to roads faster by several hours, saving the Town and its residents time and money.

“There’s no reason government needs to be archaic and not operate with the same technology that we’re using everyday of our lives outside of government,” Losquadro said. “I’ve been striving to bring us into the modern age, and this is just another step toward that. This is technology that everyone is very comfortable and well-acquainted with. The app is going to make us more efficient; we can actually spend our time doing the work that needs to be done.”

Losquadro introduced and trained supervisors and field workers on a custom-built, electronic work order system last year, developed a system to track work orders during severe weather the year before that, and is currently in the process of making an electronic time sheet program that will keep track of work hours operational before the end of this snow season.

A test email of what a call-out would look like. Image from Brookhaven Town

He said he and the IT staff have been able to build these programs in-house, rather than go out to consultants and spend thousands of taxpayer dollars. From concept to reality, the call-out app took roughly four months to get off the ground and functions on an Apple-operating system, making it as user-friendly as possible. The app can run on desktop computers, tablets and iPhones.

Matt Sabatello, an IT staff member, said a test of the app was conducted in early December and feedback from foremen has been incredible.

“The app allows for better decision-making for foremen,” he said. “It gives them a good idea of which vendors are responding to work in what areas and, if need be, allows them to react immediately to reassign a vendor to an area that nobody may have been calling in about.”

With Brookhaven being such a large township, Losquadro said “there’s no reason we shouldn’t be leading the way.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of ideas about what I’ve wanted to do, and being able to [see them through] has been very satisfying. The app is a fully live and operational system and, God willing, I won’t have to use it that much this year.”

Community responds to call for help following car crash involving a volunteer fireman

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a volunteer fireman for the Sound Beach Fire Department. Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

By Kevin Redding

Friends, family and community members did their own quick responding for a beloved Sound Beach firefighter who suffered serious injuries in a recent car crash.

A GoFundMe page to support Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. was set up Dec. 23, one day after the 24-year-old volunteer was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital following a collision with another vehicle on Route 25A and Harrison Ave. in MIller Place at 5 p.m.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s car following his crash on Route 25A Dec. 22. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

According to those close to him, McLoughlin Jr. was pulling into a lot to get a haircut when a driver ran a red light and broadsided his vehicle.

The online fundraiser hit its goal of $15,000 after just two days, and within 10, the fund exceeded the goal with $19,664. So far 350 people have donated, with individual contributions ranging from $5 to as much as $1,000.

The accident left McLoughlin Jr. with two broken vertebrae, and since he’ll be out of work for a minimum of three months, the money raised will go toward the surgery he needed to fuse part of his spine, future medical and rehabilitation costs and the eventual replacement of his totaled vehicle.

The Sound Beach native recently graduated from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut with a communications degree and has been juggling a second part-time job as a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY.

Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the district, with the hope of giving back to someone he considers “a very dedicated man to the department and the community.”

“I was amazed at how many people stepped up to help him out … we’re very appreciative of anyone who has donated,” he said. “Jimmy has always been there when you need him. He’s always willing to train, always willing to help anybody.”

Sound Beach Captain Darran Handshaw, who compiled the GoFundMe page, said the speedy outpouring and money raised is a testament to McLoughlin Jr.’s character.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. holding his Firefighter of the Year award with Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

“He’s done so much for the community and he’s just an all around great guy,” Handshaw said. “He’s always a reliable firefighter, always on the first engine and somebody that I count on when I get into a fire.”

McLoughlin Jr. has a lifelong commitment to the fire department — in fact, it’s in his blood.

His father, James McLoughlin Sr., currently serves as fire commissioner for Sound Beach and was once the chief.

“When he was born, I was a fire chief,” his father said. “He was part of the department from the time he took his first breath, and there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t stop there for one reason for another. As long as he’s in town, he’s there.”

McLoughlin said it’s heartwarming to see all the support his son has in the community.

“He’s one of the go-to people when somebody needs help,” he said. “Ever since he was a child, Jimmy was very community-oriented.”

McLoughlin Jr. joined the junior fire company when he was 13 years old and served in it for five years while simultaneously climbing the ranks toward Eagle Scout. He graduated from Rocky Point High School in 2011 and on his 18th birthday, he joined the fire department and maintained his responsibilities there whenever he came home from college for summer and winter breaks.

“He got his fire academy training squeezed in while going to college; he just lives and breaths the fire service,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “Even people who went to school locally weren’t able to maintain their fire responsibilities and quotas, and he was able to do it while going to school out of state.”

As driver on one of the fire engines, McLoughlin Jr.’s responsibilities are to maintain the truck, make sure it’s in working order and train every individual that comes into the department. To this day, his father said, anyone who needs to learn how to drive or pump one of the engines, “they go to Jimmy to learn how to do it.”

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY. Photo from Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s Facebook page

In 2014, McLoughlin Jr. was recognized for all his contributions and ability to balance his fire services and academics when he was chosen by the department as Firefighter of the Year, the fire department’s highest honor. He also received his engine company’s award the same year, which is given out by the fire department for demonstrating a certain level of skill performance and recognizes one’s ability to work within a team.

According to the GoFundMe page, he’s “performed so many heroic acts of kindness for the community.”

In 2015, he fought a large house fire inside a fellow firefighter’s family home. McLoughlin Jr. manned the hoseline, went inside the house and stopped the fire that had spread through the basement and most of the main floor.

Afterward, he filmed and produced a video with the family who lost almost everything in the fire in which they shared their experience with the community to teach key fire safety lessons. The video has since been seen all over the world and has been an integral part of Sound Beach’s fire prevention efforts.

According to his father, McLoughlin Jr. is out of surgery and resting at home. He has been able to walk and move around, but because of the procedure, he has to wear a collar support for the next six to eight weeks. He’s still in a lot of pain.

McLoughlin Jr. might have a long road to full rehabilitation ahead, but his usual spirit remains intact.

“He’s determined,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “He’s got a positive outlook … it’s not ‘am I gonna be on my feet?’ it’s ‘when I’m back on my feet.’”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, present proclamations to Ann Becker, Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato at the Mount Sinai Civic Association's 100th anniversary dinner. File photo by Desirée Keegan

In October, the Mount Sinai Civic Association celebrated its 100th anniversary and further cemented its role in providing the look, helping with the maintenance and ensuring the overall quality of life of the community. Considering its century-long list of accomplishments, the civic association is still going strong.

“The success of the civic association in terms of its longevity is a reflection of how much residents of Mount Sinai care about their community,” Mount Sinai Civic Association Vice President Brad Arrington, a member since 2004, said. “It’s a mechanism to have an input in the future of my community and a place I plan to stay in for quite a long time.”

For their tireless efforts and infinite contributions, the more than 180 members of the Mount Sinai Civic Association have been recognized as Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“The success of the civic association in terms of its longevity is a reflection of how much residents of Mount Sinai care about their community.”

— Brad Arrington

Made up of volunteers, the organization has been, and continues to be, built on local residents stepping forward and having a voice in shaping the place in which they live.

It all began on Oct. 5, 1916, when the civic association was founded as an offshoot of the Mount Sinai Taxpayers Association for the main purposes of obtaining better roads, improving conditions in Mount Sinai Harbor and figuring out ways to protect against fires, which would ultimately lead to the establishment of the Mount Sinai Volunteer Fire Department standing today.

The original officers elected at the first organizational meeting were Jacob Schratweiser, president; Philip C. Scherer, first vice president; William R. P. Van Pelt, secretary and Lorenzo H. Davis, treasurer.

They paved the way for decades’ worth of major civic issues that include successfully stopping the dredging of Mount Sinai Harbor in the 1960s, suing Brookhaven for overdevelopment to reduce the number of housing units built in 1996 and working with state, county and town officials to purchase and preserve “The Wedge” property as Heritage Park. Developers initially planned to construct a Home Depot where the park is today.

Members of the civic association work toward improving their community, protecting its coastal environment and, perhaps most importantly, protesting against overdevelopment to keep their hamlet quaint and suburban.

“We want to [continue] protecting the open space Mount Sinai has,” Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker said. “The woodlands, beach areas … preventing overdevelopment is [crucial] because that can also have negative impacts on taxes, quality of life and even things like crime.”

Becker, an active member since 1984, said she joined the organization because of the direct impact its work had on quality of life and families in the area.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker at a recent meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

What initially prompted her involvement was the proposal for a giant commercial shopping center on the corner of Plymouth Avenue and Canal Road, right behind her home, which would have been inconsistent with the aesthetic of the primarily residential neighborhood. Naturally, there wasn’t a lot of support for the planned development, and so the public — through the civic association — rallied against it and the shopping center never came to be.

Becker said the civic association is always on the lookout for problems and concerns residents might have with the ultimate goal of working on behalf of everyone to reach the best possible outcome and make a difference.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), whose office is currently working closely with the civic on two developmental projects, called Becker “a force to be reckoned with.”

“She’s exactly what a civic leader needs to be,” the councilwoman said. “The Mount Sinai community is very fortunate that Ann and the group continue to step up to the plate. They are a great group of volunteers and it’s an honor and a privilege to work with them.”

Fred Drewes, one of the civic’s long-serving members, joined in 1970, feeling it was important to be an active participant in the community and give constructive suggestions to help develop the quality of it.

Drewes, with the help of fellow civic member Lori Baldassare, projected his vision of a “central” park to help bring people together and have a location for community activities. It didn’t take long before the civic purchased the almost-a-Home Depot parcel and developed Drewes’ “Ivory Tower” idea.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the development of our hamlet,” he said, “has benefited from the input of members of the Mount Sinai Civic Association.”

Students high-five Michael Brannigan as he holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

One of America’s fastest mile runners has a habit of shattering not just records but expectations both on and off the track.

Mikey Brannigan is coming off a monumental year at just 20 years old. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, he said the odds were stacked against him, forcing him to work twice as hard as anybody else. But in 2016, the odds didn’t stand a chance as Brannigan continuously knocked them down on his way to the finish line.

For his athletic achievements and for inspiring so many people, Mikey Brannigan is a 2016 Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

In August, Brannigan ran a 3:57 mile at the Sir Walter Miler meet in Raleigh, North Carolina — becoming the first person with an intellectual disability to break the 4:00 record —and a month later, competed in the Special Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under the T20 Paralympic classification, where he took home the gold after a dominating 3:51 mile in the 1500 meters.

“He’s Mozart on the track,” Sonja Robinson, his coach at the New York Athletic Club, said in a phone interview. “When it comes to running, he’s a genius, and it’s mind-boggling what he’s accomplished and how far he’s come. He does not let the autism define him. I say to him all the time ‘you have autism, autism doesn’t have you.’”

Mike Brannigan smiles and holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

He came home from Rio not just a hero in Northport, where he’s always been celebrated, but around the country, serving as inspiration for any kid with special needs. Brannigan even participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year with his fellow New York Olympians.

“It’s been a crazy roller coaster,” Brannigan said in a phone interview. “I accomplished a lot of my goals and achievements.”

When he’s not running, Brannigan and his mother, Edie Brannigan, speak to parents and educators in Northport about autism, bullying and accepting people with disabilities.

According to Edie Brannigan, his message to students is to “follow your dream, give it your all, and do well in school.”

“He’s doing autism awareness through the sports world,” his mother said. “People with autism see they can be elite athletes because somebody’s done it now. They have autism in their lives and see Mikey … he’s doing it for them. It’s incredible. He moves people.”

She said her son has had to work through a lot of disappointment and rejection, but he’s come out on top.

Brannigan was just 12 months old when his parents knew there was something different about him. At 2 years, he was diagnosed with autism, and when he turned 3, his parents were advised to start looking at group homes for him, as she said he wasn’t able to speak in a communicative way until he was 5, and struggled to keep up academically.

“He does everything he can to engage and he’s got the best outlook … but to have a conversation, unless you’re talking about running, is difficult for him,” his mother said.

When he was in fourth grade, his parents signed him up for Rolling Thunder, a not-for-profit running club aimed at kids with special needs. The club gave him structure and provided an outlet for his natural ability to run fast. He’s been hooked on the sport ever since.

It was the running that helped him become a better student, Edie Brannigan said. By sixth grade, he was capable of doing age-appropriate work in the classroom.

“The autism serves the running and the running serves the autism,” she said. “He can focus like nobody else can in running. It’s not just about feet and legs, it’s about your head. He has that intense focus and that serves him well. [From there] he was able to absorb information and process it in a way that he never had before. He just kept amazing everyone and excelling.”

So much so that Brannigan was running for the Northport High School cross country team when he was still in eighth grade.

Students high-five Michael Brannigan as he holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Under Jason Strom’s coaching, Mikey would become the two-mile record holder in the state with a time of 8:45, and by senior year he was recognized as one of the 10 best high school runners in the country.

“It’s been tremendous to see everything he’s gotten to do and experience over the last year,” Strom said in a phone interview. “[I] root for him every step of the way. He’s always been a really good kid and always been very focused and hard working toward his goals, so it’s nice to see that come to fruition.”

Strom said when Brannigan was on the team and went to meets, students from other schools would come up and ask to take pictures with him.

“Mikey transcended the ranks and was a rock star among high school track kids,” he said.

Even though dozens of colleges were interested in scooping him up, Brannigan was unable to attend any of them because his autism makes taking standardized tests like the SATs and ACTs near impossible.

Instead, Brannigan’s been training professionally with the New York Athletic Club under Robinson and going to Suffolk County Community College part-time.

In the last year, he’s trained all over the world, from Berlin to Saudi Arabia to Doha to Toronto and, of course, Rio.

“He’ll have a long career,” Robinson said. “This is what he wants to do. It’s his chosen career. When he has a passion for something he’s going to master it … and he loves the sport of track and field.”

His mother said everything the family was afraid of when Brannigan was a kid — that he wouldn’t be independent or have a job — has been put to rest, but she can’t take any credit for that.

“People say ‘oh you did such a good job [with him]’ to me and I think ‘yeah I don’t think I did that,’” Edie Brannigan said. “I think his success is his alone. He’s so dedicated and gives his all every single day.”

Jack Smith at his home in Terryville. Photo by Kevin Redding

When it comes to preserving local history, Jack Smith has paved the way — literally.

After he retired from his teaching job of more than 30 years, Smith was free to do whatever he wanted.

But rather than just relax at home and take up a hobby, the passionate 66-year-old founded the Cumsewogue Historical Society instead, which has been integral in keeping the vast history of its surrounding communities in the forefront.

“I started to research the history of the area and realized there was quite a bit here,” Smith said in an interview. “So why not start a historical society? There’s a lot here and I thought it would be a fun thing to do.”

Smith even maintained the original Algonquin spelling of Comsewogue for the society; Cumsewogue loosely translates to “the place where many paths meet.”

For all his work in bridging the gap between the past and present for the Port Jefferson area and beyond, Smith is a 2016 Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

Mike Eiermann, the Cumsewogue Historical Society treasurer, called Smith a true “mover and shaker” in the community during an interview.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Jack Smith, Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine examine the Gentleman’s Driving Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“We have to try to keep up with him,” Eiermann said. “He’s very dedicated, very knowledgeable and is fully invested in what he does.”

As president and founder of the historical society, which was formed in 2008 and has about 30 members, Smith has accomplished a lot.

He and the group went to great lengths to preserve the old Terryville Union Hall as their main headquarters in the time following the society’s inception. Built in 1887, the union hall stands as the last historical building in Terryville, and Smith convinced local legislators to buy it and obtain funding for interior restoration. Now several showcases dedicated to local historical industries are inside the building, for example, the Porter automobile factory.

There are also roughly 120 vintage photographs of the community on display.

Smith established Heritage Day, a beloved event that exposes students from Comsewogue elementary schools to historical artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and demonstrates what life was like in the community then.

Smith said the program helps give students the unique opportunity to not only learn about the community’s history but also to see, touch and experience what life was like “before all the housing developments and shopping malls.”

But perhaps Smith and the historical society’s greatest achievement so far came in October when the Gentlemen’s Driving Park — the last Victorian-era harness racing track on Long Island where Terryville bettors once gathered to watch horses “race in heats” — officially opened to the public after several years of work to resurrect the nearly forgotten historical site.

The opening was attended by more than 100 people and served as a testament to Smith’s dedication to his cause. He discovered a faint outline of the horse track from a satellite image on Google Earth after hearing about its existence off Canal Road, visited the leaf-covered path in the woods with his wife Pam, and ultimately reached out to then Brookhaven Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and other council members about acquiring the entire 11-acre plot, clearing the overgrown path, and actively working to restore the track as close to the original 1880s footprint as possible.

“I am proud that our society has been able to preserve so much of our history that came perilously close to being lost,” Smith said.

He also uncovered various artifacts surrounding the track, including a pair of field glasses where the finish line was on the track, as well as a ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park on July 4, 1892, which is now on display at the historical society’s headquarters.

A ticket from a race day in 1892 was among Smith’s discoveries; and Smith at his home in Terryville. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Without Smith, the horse track and its history would certainly have been erased, according to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell.

“He was very diligent in doing the research and finding all the information he could on the track and he’s been that way with all of his endeavors,” she said.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who worked alongside Smith to restore the track, said in an email statement Smith’s work in the community makes him more than deserving of the Person of the Year honor.

“His passion, meticulous care and diplomacy are appreciated by all who know him,” Cartright said. “His efforts to create and implement the annual Heritage Day, his comprehensive background and the lectures he gives at the library and his work and research to preserve the track are all done to celebrate the history of our community. I’ve had the privilege of knowing [him] both personally and professionally for many years.”

Smith said his love of history can be traced back to when he was in fifth grade, where his younger self first took an interest in consuming maps and all things geography related. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in history and master’s in special education, which would be utilized at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, where he taught high school students from 1974 until 2005.

It was there he met his wife Pamela, a secretary at the school. She said they didn’t realize it at first but the two actually grew up around the block from one another in Centereach and even went to the same high school.

She said her husband is “very caring and extremely interested in helping the community.” History, including his own personal history, is a part of his daily life.