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Fire Department

Huntington Manor firefighters evacuated 15 residents from an early morning apartment blaze Sept. 20.

The fire department responded to initial reports of a structure fire on New York Avenue between East 10th and East 11th streets in Huntington Station at 6:51 a.m., according to fire district spokesman Steve Silverman.

Firefighters found a fire in an apartment building located behind a commercial building and began an aggressive search and rescue. Several neighboring fire departments including Commack, Dix Hills, Greenlawn, Halesite, Huntington, Melville also responded bringing a total of 50 firefighters and 10 trucks to the scene.

Huntington Manor assistant chiefs Jon Hoffman, Chuck Brady and Jim Glidden led crews in evacuating residents and bringing the fire under control within an hour. The fire caused extensive damage to the commercial building and apartments on the first and second floor, according to Silverman.

New York Avenue was closed off in both directions by Suffolk County police during the fire, causing snarls to rush-hour traffic.

The Suffolk County police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

A rendering of what the front of the proposed new St. James firehouse would look like. Image from St. James Fire District

St. James residents are being asked to vote Sept. 19 on whether to fund a new fire department building.

St. James fire commissioners are proposing a $12.25 million capital bond project to build a new 22,458-square-foot Jefferson Avenue facility.

The proposed Jefferson Avenue facility would be more than three times the size of the existing 7,407-square-foot building. The additional space would include spaces to serve as accommodations for firefighters and community members during storms or major emergencies, in addition to a meeting room for district and public use. It would be built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the current firehouse is not.

The estimated cost of the proposed plan to consolidate to one Jefferson Avenue facility would be an increase of approximately $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.

Polls will be open Sept. 19 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse, located at 221 Jefferson Ave. in St. James. Residents in Election District 79 can vote at the Fairfield Condos in St. James.

Firefighters with the Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kevin Redding
Nicholas Beckman. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Mount Sinai Fire Department is among the long list of firehouses on Long Island that has seen a shortage of volunteers in recent years. But the hardworking residents who respond to calls at 3 a.m. wearing MSFD jackets have more than enough burning passion to make up for it.

The department, at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, held an open house April 29 as part of RecruitNY’s federally funded, statewide annual drive designed to help districts recruit volunteer firefighters — anyone 18 or older who wants to serve their community.

While there are still more than twice as many volunteers as career firefighters in the U.S., there’s been a sharp decline.

In Suffolk County, especially, there’s been a drop largely because it’s so expensive to live here, according to Mount Sinai First Assistant Chief Nicholas Beckman.

He added that while the department in the past usually averaged three to four volunteers a year, only one joined in 2016, and there have been no takers yet this year, although a young woman in her early 20s stopped by Sunday to get information and ask questions about the training required of a volunteer.

Walter Wilson. Photo by Kevin Redding

Beckman decided it was time to take advantage of RecruitNY’s services and get the word out.

“I’ll be happy if we get at least one,” Beckman said, adding the department has an agreement with neighboring fire districts, like Miller Place, to help one another when needed.

“Every district around here is struggling and a lot of people are working two jobs and just don’t have the time to make the full commitment,” he said. “It’s hard to juggle personal life, work life and putting in the time here. But without volunteers, there will be no one to get on the trucks.”

Beckman has served 19 years in the department and has been an “honorary member” since he was 9 years old, as the son of the former chief. He said although the training and job itself is tough, there’s nothing more rewarding.

“It’s like a second family when you join here,” he said. “I can always call on the others if I need something, even outside of the firehouse.”

Adam Thomas. Photo by Kevin Redding

Walter Wilson, 77, a former utilities manager at Stony Brook University and volunteer who came out of retirement to join the firehouse after serving the Yaphank Fire Department for 26 years, said once a fireman, always a fireman.

“I had taken about a 10-year break [between Yaphank and Mount Sinai] and retired, but every time a siren went off in the neighborhood, my wife would say to me, ‘you’re like a dog on a porch, getting ready to go chase cars,’” said Wilson, who serves as captain of the fire police controlling traffic. “But it’s great. I got back in, and I love it.”

Adam Thomas, an 11-year volunteer who works full-time as an emergency vehicle technician, said he grew up down the block from the firehouse.

“Just being able to step up and do something and help people is great,” he said. “We’re a close-knit family here, we get along and work together to get something accomplished.”

Janis Henderson. Photo by Kevin Redding

In January, Thomas and another volunteer rescued two duck hunters adrift in 32-degree waters after their boat capsized in Mount Sinai Harbor.

Janis Henderson, 70, a full-time nurse who joined the department in 1974 and made history three years later as the first female recipient of the Firefighter of the Year award — modified for the first time from Fireman of the Year — said she hopes to empower more women to join.

“It’s a wide open thing now and I want them to know they can do anything they want to,” Henderson said. “When I joined, I never found anything I couldn’t do. I never said ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘this is too heavy.’ I love the job and love to get dirty.”

Henderson even suffered serious burns to her hands during an oil tank fire in her early days, because she didn’t want to say anything when her fellow firefighters pushed her too close to the flames while she was holding the nozzle. She said she feels at home in this line of work.

Jaime Baldassare. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s like I inherited 70 brothers — this is my family,” she said. “We take care of each other, and I know they’re always there for me.”

Mount Sinai Fire Chief Jaime Baldassare, who started as a volunteer at the Dix Hills Fire Department when he was 19, said he’s still at it because he feels the need to help.

“There’s nothing quite like when you pull someone out of a fire or out of a wrecked car and you find out the next day that they made it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe. I love to do this. We train to be the best we can be so anytime a call comes in, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to help the people of Mount Sinai.”

To volunteer, visit the Mount Sinai Fire Department at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road or call 631-473-2418.

Current fire district leader is seeking fourth five-year term

Guy Schneider will be taking on Carol Hawat for her commissioner position of the Miller Place Fire District for the second time. Photo by Kevin Redding

The heat is on at the Miller Place Fire District this month, as retired firefighter Guy Schneider challenges incumbent Carol Hawat in an upcoming commissioner vote.

Hawat, recognized in April as EMT of the year by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), has held her position as one of five on the Board of Fire Commissioners since 2001. As her third five-year term comes to a close, she said she hopes to continue serving as commissioner and bring to the job her experience as a full-time EMT supervisor at Rocky Point Fire Department — a perspective that’s proven to be especially beneficial in Miller Place as 60 percent of the emergency calls to the fire district require medical care. Motor vehicle accidents and home injuries make up most of the calls to which volunteers respond.

Having been born and raised on Long Island in a family of police officers, Hawat said that helping people and working for the community has always been part of her life.

In 2008, she helped initiate an Advanced Life Support program in the community, which has provided people with a set of life-saving protocols that extends support until a victim receives full medical treatment at a hospital. Hawat feels she’s made a difference by bringing EMS to the table at the district and takes pride in the fact that the budget has been handled well and taxes haven’t been raised in years.

Guy Schneider. Photo by Kevin Redding
Guy Schneider. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I just love what I do … I want to continue providing quality care and safety to the people of Miller Place,” Hawat said. “This is where my children were raised and grew up. I have strong ties here and I like helping others. I feel like I have a purpose … giving back to the community. It’s what I was raised to do.”

She also stressed her urgency to put a stop to the rise in heroin overdoses on the North Shore. She said while Narcan, the opiate antidote used to treat overdoses, is supplied in the ambulances, she hopes to provide more awareness and training to schools in the future.

Schneider has been in fire and rescue service for more than four decades, and at 64 years old he’s still responding and volunteering every day. He volunteered for 12 years as a firefighter at the Babylon Village Fire Department starting in 1970, served as a hull maintenance technician in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War between 1971 and 1975, and was at the Holtsville Fire Department briefly before working at FDNY Firehouse Engine 60 and Ladder 17 between 1984 and 2004.

He said he sustained some disabling breathing problems in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, and so he decided to slow down and move to Miller Place from Sound Beach. He’s been a volunteer at the Miller Place Fire Department ever since, mostly as “chauffeur,” driving the fire apparatus and getting the volunteers where they need to be.

He said what pulls him out of bed — sometimes at 3 a.m. to a call — is that he wants to help people.

“I’m still on the first engine to a fire,” Schneider said. “I’ve been to just about every fire in Miller Place since I’ve been here. Always first too. That’s me.”

Schneider ran against and lost to Hawat in 2011 but said he’s running for commissioner this year because “it’s time for a change.” He believes strict term limits should be implemented to commissioners because after a while complacency has a tendency to kick in.

Carol Hawat. Photo from Carol Hawat
Carol Hawat. Photo from Carol Hawat

“I want to try to get in there and spice things up,” Schneider said. “Right now we’re working with 27-year-old pumpers, which should’ve been taken out of service a long time ago. It’s gotten to the point where [the current commissioners] are holding on to all the old stuff, because they’ve been around for 15 or 20 years. We need someone with a little more finesse, to try to get in there and work things out.”

He said he has great respect for Hawat and considers her a great EMT but wants to be more active within the district.

“I love Carol, she’s great to work with, but it’s time to move on,” Schneider said.

Hawat said that she doesn’t understand why Schneider has run against her twice when there were two open spots on the five-person board in the previous five years for which he didn’t run.

“I feel like I’m more qualified because of my experience in what I do in the fire department and I’d like to continue doing that … it’s a service for the community,” Hawat said. “I know there’s equipment he feels the firemen aren’t getting and things like that, but it’s not true.”

Josh Hagermann, Miller Place department chief, had good things to say about each candidate.

“I think [Carol] has done a very good job … she’s fair, helpful and has made sure the community is getting the best care,” Hagermann said. “And Guy is very active and he’s a very reliable apparatus driver for us. He’s got a very good firefighting background as well. So, we have two good candidates running for one position.”

Community members can cast their votes Dec. 13 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Miller Place firehouse, located at 12 Miller Place Road.

Children take part in a previous fire safety day. File photo

The Miller Place Fire Department will be hosting an open house focused on fire prevention and fire safety.

On Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., there will be activities for the entire family at the Miller Place Fire Department Station 2 at 220 Miller Place-Yaphank Road.

There, families can meet the firefighters and EMTs, explore firefighting equipment, meet Suffolk County Fire Marshal’s detection K-9s, partake in a bike rodeo, see active demonstrations and take home information and materials to help enhance fire prevention and fire safety awareness.

For more information, email Erica.harrison@gmail.com

The Setauket Fire District breaks ground on Saturday. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Sound the alarms. On Saturday, June 4, Setauket Fire District officials broke ground on the community-approved New Era construction project, which aims to renovate and expand the current firehouse to provide safer, more efficient and “greener” emergency services. For more than a decade, the $14.9 million project had been through its fair share of planning and proposals, and after a long community effort to get it approved, a bond vote in June 2014 finally sealed the deal.

With construction finally starting, District Manager David Sterne, along with members of the Setauket Fire District and elected representatives, commemorated the slow but worthwhile journey toward the refurbished firehouse.

According to Sterne, the primary issue with the firehouse that’s being replaced is that it was built in 1935 and doesn’t meet the needs for today’s fire services, both in size and safety.

For example, today’s modern fire trucks are bigger due to safety necessities, like closed cabs and seat belts and so the project will provide properly sized apparatus bays for new trucks, as opposed to custom ordering the trucks to fit the smaller firehouse. Along with equipment upgrades and storage space, the firehouse also plans to install a partial green roof, a high-efficiency heating system, and solar methods for energy capture.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine deliver their remarks at the Setauket Fire Department groundbreaking. Photo by Kevin Redding
Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine deliver their remarks at the Setauket Fire Department groundbreaking. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We have turned this into what we feel is a responsible and efficient project that will help us meet the needs for today and the next 50 to 75 years,” Sterne said. “Knowing the dedication of the men and women who volunteer their time to serve the community, to have the community come out and support this project was a reaffirmation of all the hard work that we do. We felt good in continuing to serve.”

With the sun beating down on a small gathering behind the firehouse, backhoes parked and surrounded by dirt hills, the ceremony was brief and to the point.

Among the speakers were Chairman Paul Paglia, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D- Port Jefferson Station).

Speaking first, Paglia said that this building not only symbolizes a renewed commitment to the community, but also underlines the community’s decision to invest in the future of the fire department. It’s a major endeavor, he said, but one that will give the town a sense of pride for what will come of it.

Romaine expressed his immense pride for the men and women who serve the department, and men and women who guide the district.

Englebright brought his attention to the design plans.

“Your planning has just been exemplary,” he said, facing the fire district officials. “The result is a design that is compatible with the historic neighborhood. We are in the core area of the town of Brookhaven historic district in Setauket and there was every chance on a project of this scale that we could lose our sense of place. But that is not being lost. It is being preserved. I think that the community will be very grateful when they see this rise out of the sand and still look familiar, while serving their needs to protect life and property as never before.”

At the end of the ceremony, the officials and representatives posed in hard hats and dug shovels into the dirt. Even though this will be an 18 to 24 month project, the completion of over a decade’s worth of work is in sight.

“A couple of years from now,” said Sterne, “we’ll be holding those giant scissors and having a big ribbon cutting [ceremony].”

Junior firefighters work a fire hose. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Stop drop and enroll in Dix Hills’ first-ever junior fire academy, a one-week summer program designed to introduce children between the ages of 12 and 14 to the volunteer fire service.

Commissioner Todd Cohen said the program will give kids an understanding of how the fire department works and what it means to be a volunteer there.

“Our academy will be tailored for the community,” he said in a statement. “We’re working hard to not only provide the kids with valuable knowledge and hands-on skills, but also to give them a fun week. This program gives youngsters a unique set of skills. There’s nothing else like it on Long Island — it’s truly one of a kind.”

Kids who attend the academy will learn fire safety, CPR, first aid, leadership and respect, as well as receive a Heartsaver certification card from the American Heart Association. There will also be limited hands-on training for hose-handling and rescue techniques. Kids will be taken on field trips to the Yaphank Fire Academy, the Suffolk County EMS call center, the Islip airport fire rescue department and more. Firefighters from the Dix Hills Fire Department will run the program.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), a Dix Hills resident, said she was excited to partner the town parks department with the fire department to launch the program.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn all they can about the department,” she said. “It is our hope that this program will inspire students to join the fire department and instill in them a sense of volunteerism and responsibility. It promises to be a fun and rewarding experience for all involved. This is the first of its kind on Long Island.”

According to a press release, the idea began 15 years ago at the Cold Spring Fire Department in Putnam County. The academy grew immensely popular and, as a result, has been replicated throughout the country. Cohen and Todd Baker, a Dix Hills firefighter, are working with the originators of Cold Spring’s program to successfully duplicate it in Dix Hills.

The academy runs from Aug. 15 to 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dix Hills Fire Department Headquarters at 115 East Deer Park Road. Registration opens on June 3.

A piece of Tower 1 from the World Trade Center made its way to the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department Wednesday to be used as a memorial for the community.

Thomas Buchta, a member of the department, said receiving the metal is important for many reasons.

Brothers Daniel and John Martin, of the Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department, lost their father, Peter C. Martin, a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York’s Rescue 2 in Brooklyn, during the 9/11 terrorist attack.

“It’s significant for us and for the community to remember … what really took place that day and how many people sacrificed and are still to this day perishing because of illnesses that they received from the Trade Center,” he said. “It’s never-ending. [There are] so many to remember. We don’t ever want to forget what happened. We never want to see that happen again, so that’s why it’s important to remember what transpired that day so we keep vigilant and never let it happen again.”

Bob Thornton, another firefighter at Cold Spring Harbor, said the moment has been 14 years in the making.

“It all started back on 9/11, when we got the call to go in,” he said. “I was fortunate [enough] to be one of the 12 guys from our department that went in.”

Thornton said he and other firefighters were sent to Belmont Park to wait to go to Ground Zero, but after three days, they were discharged and sent home.

“It’s like the end of a dream,” he said of finally having the metal come to their community. “I’ve written letters for 14 years to try and get this metal. You kind of lose steam when nothing happens and the years roll by. Now we’re finally coming to fruition.”

Members of the department picked up the beam early Wednesday morning at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey storage facility, transported it to the North Shore along with units from the New York City Police Department, the Suffolk County Police Department and others.

The steel beam is 17 feet long and 4 feet wide and weighs about 18,000 pounds. According to the department, it is one of the last remaining pieces of steel available for use as a memorial.

Firefighters surround the two cars involved in the crash Friday morning .Photo from John Mancino
Firefighters examine one of the two cars involved in the crash Friday morning .Photo from John Mancino
Firefighters examine one of the two cars involved in the crash Friday morning. Photo from John Mancino

On Friday, May 20, the Northport Fire Department responded to an early morning car crash at the intersection of Route 25A and Cherry Street in Northport.

An ambulance, a heavy rescue truck and one fire engine were at the scene. The police said three people were inside the two vehicles that had crashed, but no one was injured.

Emergency medical technicians examined the three people and all refused medical assistance.

Firefighters helped remove the damaged vehicles from blocking traffic on Route 25A.

File photo

A late night house fire on Parkside Avenue in Miller Place Thursday night killed a 70-year-old man inside, Suffolk County police said Friday.

Authorities said a 911 caller reported the fire at 106 Pakrside Ave. around 11:50 p.m. Thursday night. That was when members of the Miller Place Fire Department discovered the man, whose identity was being withheld until authorities could notify his next of kin, and pulled him out of the blaze.

Police said the fire department took the man to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, where he was pronounced dead.

Detectives said they did not believe the fire was criminal in nature.

Firefighters from other departments, including Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Mount Sinai and Middle Island also responded to the fire to help extinguish the flames, the county police department said.

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