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Fire

The Rocky Point Fire Department Company 2 is using a warehouse on Prince Road as its main base. Photo by Kyle Barr

Changes are happening for the Rocky Point Fire Department Company 2, otherwise known as the Black Sheep Company, as the fire district finally settles in to replace the aging firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point.

The night of May 1 the company moved all its equipment and vehicles into one of the warehouses of what was once the Thurber Lumber Yard property. The warehouse has enough room to fit the ladder truck, fire engine, brush truck, two EMS vehicles, and will also be home base for around 40 volunteers. The dirt road out of the property leads onto Prince Road, just a five-minute walk from the old firehouse.

The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

Anthony Gallino, the chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said they were lucky to get those trucks in such a close location.

“It would have been a big problem for us,” Gallino said. “We might have been able to relocate some of the equipment into the other firehouses and pulling certain stuff not used as frequently and leaving it out. This is just a block away, and response times probably won’t change at all.”

Mark Baisch, the owner of Landmark Properties and the old Thurber property, said he was approached by the department and didn’t hesitate to offer one of the buildings for free for the fire company’s use. While plans are still in motion to break ground on 40 one-bedroom apartments for seniors, he said the fire department being in that building won’t disturb that development.

“We’ll work around them,” Baisch said.

District manager Ed Brooks said the deconstruction will start May 13 with asbestos removal, which could take from two to three weeks. Once inspection of the building is completed, demolition will begin, and that could take a number of weeks before construction on the new firehouse truly begins. Overall construction could take upward of a year, according to Gallino.

Citing that the aging firehouse, built in the 1950s, had received little upgrades and attention for half a century, the district proposed a $7,250,000 firehouse project that was approved by residents 204 to 197 in an August 2017 vote. Also approved in a separate vote were plans for the purchase of a new ladder truck at a cost of $1,250,000. While plans were originally set to break ground in early 2018, Brooks said the first set of bids came in too high for the project, and when the district put in for a new set of bids, too few came in. The fire district has since changed construction managers and has settled on a new set of bids. The new ladder truck won’t be purchased until after construction of the future firehouse is finished.

The board chairman said the new firehouse is especially important as the community grows.

“This is just a block away, and response times probably won’t change at all.”

— Anthony Gallino

“The other building was outdated, heating and air conditioning was a problem, the bays were so tight that when trucks were moving out, the guys were changing just a foot from a truck coming in and out,” Gallino said. “It’s a conservative building, but it will suit our needs.”

Members and friends of the Black Sheep Company took to Facebook to commiserate about their old firehouse as they moved into the warehouse on Prince Road.

“Tonight is a bittersweet night for the North Shore Beach Fire Company [as] we said goodbye to our firehouse,” local resident Theresa Lattman wrote in a Facebook post May 1. “Our trucks pulled out for the last time, but a new firehouse will be built in its place that will hopefully serve this community for a long time.”

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Casa Luis on West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Karina Gerry

A Smithtown mom-and-pop restaurant has been able to reopen its doors more than a year after a horrific blaze left many questioning its fate.

Casa Luis, located at 1033 W. Jericho Turnpike, served up lunch to customers Jan. 10 for the first time since a devastating single-car crash set the restaurant up in flames in October 2017.

At around midnight Oct. 1, a 2004 Nissan Quest crashed into a 2011 Ford pickup truck and then plowed into the Spanish restaurant. The sedan burst into flames, killing the driver and setting the 30-year-old restaurant ablaze. Owner Jose Luis Estevez, commonly known as Luis, and his wife, Carmen, were asleep upstairs when they received a call from their neighbor alerting them to the fire.

“You know how many customers call me, ‘Luis, are you OK?’” Estevez said. “‘Do you need help?’ It’s so nice, so nice.”

“I’m not a famous guy. I’m a real guy, but I love what I do. I have my place and I love that people like my food or enjoy my restaurant. I still work because I love it.”

— Jose Luis Estevez

The owner said the resulting fire destroyed the restaurant’s kitchen, but left the dining room untouched. The couple’s upstairs apartment was damaged and the outside of the building was pitch black from smoke damage. Estevez, an immigrant from Spain, and his wife found themselves suddenly forced out of a home and a business they had spent years nurturing it.

“My mom took it really bad,” said Delia Arias, who works at the restaurant with her parents. “She was very fragile for months after, but she pulled through. My parents are strong people.”

Arias, who along with her siblings grew up helping around the restaurant, was surprised at the extent of the damage from the fire.

“The next day, I came to see the place,” she said. “It was a big shock, it was emotional, it was a little bit of everything all at once.”

Both Arias and her father said there was an outpouring of love and support from the community during the 15 months it took to rebuild. The local deli offered Estevez free coffee and lunch, and his fellow restaurant owners offered Casa Luis’ employees jobs to ensure that they could return to work when the business reopened.

“I never expected that in my life,” Estevez said. “Out of this world.”

Arias echoed her father’s sentiments, noting that customers, friends and family members all reached out to make sure her family was okay.

“You didn’t even ask and people were just coming and like ‘You need this, here take this,’” she said. “It was amazing. Such a horrible thing happened and everyone was so amazing to us, it was a really nice thing in such a crazy time.”

For Estevez, there was never any question about whether or not he was going to rebuild after the fire.

“This business gave me a lot of things,” he said. “So for respect of business, of the people in the town, on Long Island. I opened again.”

During the first two weeks of reopening customers came to celebrate with Estevez and eat at the local restaurant they had come to love over the past 30 years.

“I’m not a famous guy,” he said. “I’m a real guy, but I love what I do. I have my place and I love that people like my food or enjoy my restaurant. I still work because I love it.”

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Bright orange flames and heavy smoke billowing up from a shuttered Commack motel on Saturday morning alarmed motorists and nearby residents who were unaware it was part of a preplanned fire training drill.

Commack Fire Department burned down the former Courtesy Inn, located at 1126 Jericho Turnpike, Jan. 12 with the property owner’s permission as the culmination of a two-week long intensive training exercise, Commissioner Pat Fazio said. The site needed to be cleared to make way for an approved 94-apartment complex for seniors age 55 and older. The location is being developed by TDG Commack, LLC.

Residents dialed 911 and called local officials in a panic over the blaze, saying they were not
given any notification.

It was a huge fire and a huge mess.’

— Mark Stevens

“The community is incensed over it as they weren’t informed and there was a huge amount of smoke blowing over their houses,” Mark Stevens, of East Northport, said. “It was a huge fire and a huge mess.”

Stevens, who took photos of the blaze from a distance, said the distraction of the flames, along with heavy smoke, caused traffic to back up along Jericho Turnpike.

The fire department did not publish any notification to residents, according to the commissioner, because the event was well planned and controlled.

“It was a controlled burn at all times,” Fazio said. “No one was ever in danger. There was no danger to anyone’s home.”

The commissioner said fire department  officials spoke with the property owners after the motel closed in November 2018 about razing the blighted building for training purposes. The property and vacated building, which he said has been blighted by drug issues and overdoses, offered its firefighters a unique learning experience.

“Training like this is priceless,” Fazio said. “Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.”

He said the fire department utilized each of the 50 hotel rooms to set up a wide variety of different training scenarios. Over two weeks, volunteers learned forced entry training on locked doors to get into a fire, how to safely breech walls to get to a fire or trapped individual, and observe how fires reacted in different environments.

During the week prior to the fire, Fazio said various state and federal agencies utilized the structure as well to train their personnel. Neighboring fire departments including Nesconset, Smithtown and St. James were on hand to participate in the Jan. 12 large-scale fire drill.

“This is the biggest live training we’ve ever had,” he said. “No one was at risk, we did it with no injuries. It was a total success.”

Training like this is priceless. Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.’

— Pat Fazio

The commissioner said he was under the impression the Town of Smithtown was notifying residents through its website and computer systems. Nicole Garguilo, the town’s spokeswoman, said the town had no advanced notification but the fire department was not required to do so.

“They’ve never been asked to notify us before,” Garguilo said. “Usually their controlled burns are done in buildings further away from the community. This was a building surrounded by a residential neighborhood.”

The town’s Department of Public Safety sent an alert out via Twitter and its mobile app at 10:44 a.m., after the burn had started.

“We have reached out to their communications contact and asked if they would notify us in advanced of controlled burns in the future,” Garguilo said.

Fazio said the fire department also did not publish notification for fear of people attempting to come onto the site, resulting in a live audience that could potentially get injured.

“I apologize people are so upset,” he said. “It was invaluable training that we’re not offered that much.”

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The lights went out just as I had finished the chapter, and was about to put down my book and go to bed. I looked at my watch, which shines in the dark, and noted that it was past 11 p.m. It was a clear night with no lightning or wind, was my first thought. Probably some driver ran into a telephone pole and disabled a transformer, my brain posited, trying to make sense of the sudden blackness. Then the loud noises began. In rapid succession, there was a series of what sounded like firecrackers going off somewhere on our street, close to our house. The acrid smell of smoke began to fill the air.

I briefly thought to go outside, then decided to wait a few minutes before bothering to fumble around for a robe or wake the rest of the house. Within minutes my neighbor across the street phoned. He looks directly at our property. And he said that the telephone pole right beside my driveway was on fire, flames and sparks coming out from the bottom. “We’ve called the fire department, and you seem to be in no immediate danger,” he reassured me. “They said they would be here directly. In fact, here comes a police car now. It’s beaten the fire truck.”

Time to wake the house and go outside for a look, I decided, hoping not to trip over any obstacle on my way to the front door. The police car was in our driveway, his lights the only ones piercing the darkness. “What’s happened?” I yelled as he got out and slowly walked toward me. He didn’t want to trip over a tree root or a curb either.

“Your telephone pole is burning but not to worry, the firemen will shortly have it under control,” he offered calmly, as if everyone deals with these particulars when they should be in bed asleep. When I asked, he told me his name and that he was from the 6th Precinct. My hostess instincts rushed to the fore. “Would you like some coffee or a sandwich?”

He laughed. It was, after all, a preposterous exchange to be having in the dead of night. “No thank you, but here come the guys from PSEG, right behind the firemen. They will take care of this quickly.”

It wasn’t so quick. A courageous soul from PSEG Long Island went up in one of those extending arm buckets mounted on the truck alongside the burning pole to cut the electric wires. At the same time, the entire street was plunged into darkness, no doubt at the direction of the power company.

“What caused such a reaction?” my neighbor asked a worker. “Who knows?” he replied with a shrug. “It could be a rodent or a squirrel chewing through the wires.” The responders were a gallant crew, seemingly unperturbed by the excitement. Between the fire trucks and the PSEG trucks, there were interminable blinking lights and radio noise for a couple of hours. The men went about their jobs in good humor, and when the lines were cut and the fire finally out, they promised to come back the next day. They were able to restore power to the rest of the block but, of course, not to us, before they left.

To their great credit, the men were back with trucks by 9 a.m. the following morning. This surface crew dug up the burnt wires, installed a new pole alongside the charred one and reconnected the overhead wires. The underground crew arrived around midday and installed the other wires beneath the soil, laboring until well after dark under bright lights before they finished.

By 9 p.m. we had our power back in our house but not the other services that are attached to the pole: cable and telephone. As of this writing, those services are promised shortly. Whatever we grouse about on the national level of our country, it is tremendously reassuring that on the local level we are remarkably well cared for. Three cheers for my helpful neighbors, the police, firemen and PSEG men.

It looked like special effects from a movie scene playing out on the harbor.

At about 1 p.m. Sunday, July 1, a 33-foot Sea Ray Sundancer boat caught fire in Port Jefferson Harbor near the Danfords Hotel & Marina dock, according to police. The cause of the fire is under investigation by Arson Squad detectives, police said. Four Connecticut natives were onboard the boat when it burst into flames — Charles Schwartz, 59, who owned the boat; Ainsley Lothrop, 30; David Lamontagne, 47; and Robert Corbi, 31.

Suffolk County Police Sgt. Michael Guerrisi was off-duty at the time and onboard his own personal boat nearby, police said. The four occupants of the boat jumped into the water to escape the burning vessel, according to the Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office, and Guerrisi aided in pulling the boaters from the water to safety onto his boat.

“Kudos to Port Jeff Fire Department — responded immediately to contain the fire — fantastic job,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant posted on Facebook, thanking the neighboring fire departments for lending a hand. First responders from Setauket, Terryville and Mount Sinai fire departments arrived at the scene of the incident to help extinguish the flames.

“Thank you to Port Jefferson EMS for providing rehab to the firefighters working on scene as well as emergency medical care to the vessel’s occupants,” a message on PJFD’s Facebook page read.

The occupants of the boat were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to SCPD.

Stock photo

The next couple of months are packed with celebrations, including high school and college proms and graduations. When planning any outdoor festivities, PSEG Long Island urges customers to think carefully
about how they handle Mylar balloons. Though they can make a party more festive, Mylar balloons can also cause power outages when they get loose and come in contact with electrical equipment.

The distinctive metallic coating on Mylar balloons conducts electricity. Because of this, when a Mylar balloon comes in contact with a power line, it can cause a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries.

To reduce the risk of outages and injuries, residents should keep the following safety tips in mind:

• Mylar balloons and other decorations should be kept away from overhead power lines and all utility equipment.

• Make sure balloons are secured to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Keep balloons tethered and attached to the weights at all times.

• Always dispose of Mylar balloons by safely puncturing the balloon in several places to release the helium that otherwise could cause the balloon to float away.

• Never touch a power line. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon, toy or other type of debris that is entangled in an overhead power line. Call PSEG Long Island to report the problem at 800-490-0075 so crews can remove the item safely.

For more kite and balloon safety tips visit PSEG’s website.

A fire broke out at 201 Main Street in Port Jefferson during the early morning hours May 5, putting a serious crimp in plans for caffeine addicts far and wide.

The location, which houses Starbucks on the ground floor and Barito Tacos & Cocktails on the second floor, caught fire early Saturday morning, according to an 8:30 a.m. May 5 Facebook post by Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office.

“A good stop was made and damage to the building was minimal with little extension,” the post said.

The department was aided by members of the Terryville Fire Department. Starbucks was open as of Monday morning, May 7.

The remains of the historic Ebo Hill mansion in Smithtown after the March 26 fire. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The owner of a historic Smithtown property destroyed by a fire last week is wasting no time in brushing himself off, picking up the pieces and promising the Ebo Hill mansion will rise again.

Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza of Commack and Deer Park, has publicly promised Smithtown residents that he plans to rebuild the historic building that was burned to its studs March 26.

The new owner of the three-story house, once owned by descendants of the town founder Richard Smyth, said he had been burning scraps to provide heat as he and his crew worked on renovations. The last piece of wood was put into the fireplace at approximately 3 p.m., according to Albano, adding only embers remained when he left for the day at around 5:15 p.m.

“If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace,” Albano said.

If I had a penny for everyone who asked me why I lit the fireplace.”

— Richard Albano

Albano said a worker was in the rear of the building when he heard a popping noise and found the fireplace mantle was on fire. The worker grabbed a fire extinguisher and used it to douse the flames, according to Albano. The worker then heard a crackling noise coming from upstairs and discovered the second story of the building was engulfed in the blaze.

Smithtown Fire Department received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a structure fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Jeff Bressler, a spokesman for the fire department. Albano said the call was made by a neighbor, who immediately called him.

“When I pulled out of my driveway, I saw the whole sky was lit up from the flames,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything catch fire so quickly and spread so quickly. It’s not even imaginable.”

Hundreds of firefighters from Smithtown, Commack, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James responded to the scene but were unable to enter the building.

Albano said he later learned there was a crack in the chimney on the second floor that when heated, expanded, allowing an ember or spark to slip through, which is what he believes lit the wood floor.

“There’s got to be a reason why,” the owner said. “The only thing I can think of is this would have happened after the house was complete. My family wasn’t in there. The house wasn’t completely redone. It could have been a lot worse.”

Firefighters respond to Ebo Hill mansion fire March 26. Photo from Facebook

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by Suffolk County’s arson squad and Town of Smithtown fire marshals, but no findings were available as of press time. A full investigation may take up to a month to complete.

Albano said he received more than 2,000 messages on the Facebook page he set up to keep residents up to date with the renovations to the historic home, offering both help and encouragement to rebuild. Several GoFundMe campaigns were started by neighbors, according to Albano, but he’s requested they be discontinued and refunds given.

“The wound is still too open,” he said. “It’s too soon.”

Albano said he didn’t have any homeowner’s insurance to cover the damage because he wasn’t able to live in the house yet. He did take out a builder’s risk policy, which he hopes will provide some funds to rebuild.

“It will probably be a few months before I know, but I hope to be back in the construction phase in six weeks,” he said.

We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”
— Nicole Garguilo

The owner obtained 1908 floor plans of the house from Smithtown Public Library and consulted with several architects to prepare plans. He hopes to choose an architect to work with within a week, submit building plans to the town and get his building permits. He’s already met with Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and other town officials to discuss his plans.

“He’s looking at a tax assessment increase — he’s looking at a loss, not a gain,” said town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. “We didn’t think after meeting with him that his intentions to rebuild were anything other than genuine.”

While he may have a long road ahead of him, Albano said he’s upset over the numerous artifacts destroyed by the blaze.

“The room that caught fire was filled with things I would have loved to have, stupid things like a pogo stick from 1969,” he said.

A few items that he managed to save because they were in storage include a turn-of-the-century needlepoint of a Christian hymnal verse and the original weather vane.

“I fell in love with the mansion,” Albano said. “I have a lot of passion in me and I connected with the house dearly. It will rise again.”

See more photos of the March 26 fire at Ebo Hill Mansion here. 

Two Suffolk County police officers were injured rescuing a dog from an East Northport fire. Photo from SCPD

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two Suffolk County police officers were injured after entering a burning home in East Northport to rescue a dog.

Gucci, a 5-year-old Pomeranian, was saved from a Northport home that went up in flames. Photo from SCPD

Officers Joseph Barra and Stephen Caratozzolo responded to the home, located on Meadow Rue Lane, at approximately 1:45 p.m. March 30. As they were circling the fully engulfed house looking for victims, the officers observed a dog through a rear window. The officers entered the burning home through a rear door and rescued the 5-year-old Pomeranian mix named Gucci.

The officers suffered smoke inhalation and were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital by East Northport Fire Department ambulance where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Gucci is expected to survive.

Arson section detectives are investigating the fire.

Historic property once owned by the town's founding family burnt down to studs

A historic Smithtown mansion once inhabited by the descendants of founder Richard Smythe burned down to its studs Monday night, according to St. James Fire Department.

Suffolk County police received a call at 7:56 p.m. March 26 reporting a fully involved house fire on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown, according to Kevin Barattini, spokesman for St. James Fire Department.

Smithtown Fire Department was first to respond to the scene and immediately reached out for mutual aid from Hauppauge, Kings Park, Nesconset, Nissequogue and St. James fire departments. The historic mansion was fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived, according to Barattini, leaving them unable to enter the building.

“You could see this fire for miles,” he said. “It was amazing, that thing was glowing.”

The property was purchased March 8 by Richard Albano, owner of Richie’s Pizza in Commack and Deer Park, with the intent of restoring the nearly 175-year-old mansion to its original state.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” Albano said.

The new owner said the fire was heartbreaking, and was unable to talk about it any further Tuesday morning.

“I’m absolutely devastated.”
— Richard Albano

Albano began extensive renovations of the more than 11,000-square-foot mansion earlier this year after receiving permission from the previous owner to get started before the sale was final. The home’s 16 bedrooms, two kitchens, master ballroom, and numerous bathrooms had fallen into disrepair, but still contained many of the original fixtures, according to Albano.

“I feel a lot of passion for this home,” he told TBR News Media March 13. “I’m working on it every day, restoring it. My goal is to make it look as it was when it was brand new.”

According to “Colonel Rockwell’s Scrap-book,” published by the Smithtown Historical Society in 1968, the house was built around 1846. It once belonged to Obadiah Smith, a great-grandson of Smythe, before eventually becoming the homestead to Ethelbert Marshall Smith, another Smythe descendent, in 1877.

Albano had posted March 19 on Facebook that “the restoration is going great and today seemed like it was the [first] day that it felt as things were going back together instead of taking things apart.” He was preparing to install a new roof on the building.

“It’s very unfortunate as you have a guy who was restoring this property and you look forward to seeing it when you pass by it every day,” Barattini said.

The new owner had said he hoped to open the historic mansion for the public to view once it was fully restored. Though Albano has been purchasing, renovating and reselling properties for decades, he said his intention was to live in the Ebo Hill mansion once the project was completed.

There was no reported injuries and the fire is under investigation for unknown causes at this time.