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Firefighter

Members of Miller Place Fire Department, EMS volunteers and community members come together at Stop & Shop in Miller Place to raise donations for those in need this holiday season. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Local families in need have a group of Miller Place volunteers, generous strangers and a big red bus to be thankful for this holiday season.

Cold, windy weather did nothing to stop Miller Place Fire Department members from gathering outside Stop & Shop at 385 Route 25A for five hours last weekend. In fact, the dozen volunteer EMS members, engine company officers and firefighters were all smiles as they collected 800 pounds of nonperishable items from passing shoppers, whose contributions were packed into a fire department bus and dropped off to St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach the next morning.

Former Miller Place captain of EMS
Debi Rasweiler, on left, collects
donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

Canned food, condiments, paper towels and much more stock the shelves at the church’s food pantry for Miller Place, Sound Beach and Mount Sinai families struggling to make ends meet. The donations will help them have a proper Thanksgiving.

“The outpouring is always incredible — people here are just amazing,” said Debi Rasweiler, a former captain of EMS at the fire department and organizer of the 7th annual EMS Stuff-A-Bus Nov. 17, which ran from 3 to 8 p.m. “Last year we stuffed the bus from floor to ceiling, rear to front. It just grows every year.”

During the event, shoppers on their way into the supermarket were handed a list of items needed for the pantry — including pasta, dry cereal, canned vegetables, soaps and toothpaste — and asked to donate if possible. It didn’t take long before residents wheeled their carts over to the bus to chip in. Some dropped off one or two items while others outdid themselves, handing over full bags of groceries and cash.

“I just think we all have to give back,” said Shoreham resident Peggy Debus, who donated peanut butter, jelly and cereal. “When people stop giving back, the world gets very bad.”

John Barile from Mount Sinai, who handed over paper towels, said he takes any opportunity he can to help others who need it.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems,” Barile said.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems.”

John Barile

When asked what inspired her to donate multiple items, another shopper simply said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Stephen Rasweiler, Debi’s husband and a lifelong volunteer firefighter, voiced his appreciation for the community as he held up a donated bag of yams and turkey stuffing.

“This is somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner just in one bag,” he said, beaming. “This time of year is very stressful, the economy’s tough for a lot of families and we know we’re helping a lot of people. It’s sad that this is needed but it’s been a great department and community effort.”

It was the Rasweiler’s daughter Jessica who initially brought Stuff-A-Bus to the community seven years ago after being involved in a similar event with her sorority at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. When she came home from college, and joined the fire department as an EMT, Rasweiler was determined to adopt the donate-and-transport event.

She got local businesses to sponsor it and went door-to-door from Setauket to Wading River to spread the word. As a full-time nurse at St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, she was unable to be at this year’s event, but said over the phone that the event’s continued success makes her heart smile.

“I wanted to do more for the community,” she said. “I knew we could do something greater than just wait for the whistle to blow for any kind of call that we get at the fire department. I just can’t believe it and it’s amazing the community has just latched onto it. It’s a very special event.”

For Bobby Chmiel, 2nd Lieutenant of EMS, the Stuff-A-Bus is a highlight every year.

St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator Jane
Guido shows off her new inventory as a result of the
annual Stuff-A-Bus event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s not just residents helping people, it’s helping people they might know,” he said. “They could be your friends or neighbors. The community in Miller Place and Sound Beach will unite around a common cause. When it’s one of our own that needs help, especially during the holiday season, we’re there.”

On Nov. 18, the big red bus delivered its boxes upon boxes of items to the church. The various foods were stacked into the church’s pantries and will be given out to families, many of whom the church takes care of year-round.

“It’s a blessing and I can’t thank them enough,” said Jane Guido, St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator. “The families are very appreciative because a lot of them wouldn’t’ be able to put that kind of spread on their table for a holiday. It’s just too costly. People are so generous — we get plenty of stuff that holds us through the year — without their help, our pantry would be bare.”

After all the boxes were brought inside, Debi Rasweiler announced that on top of the food, one resident who asked to be anonymous donated $1,400 worth of Visa gift cards.

“It was a single parent who had been needy for a long time,” Rasweiler said.

An emotional Guido hugged her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you everybody,” Guido said.

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.

A man touches the wall to pay respect to someone he lost on Sept. 11, 2001 at Rocky Point Fire Department’s 9/11 memorial service. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Residents throughout Suffolk County will have their choice of memorial ceremonies to attend this Sept. 11.

Huntington

The East Northport Fire Department will be hosting its annual memorial service this Sunday, with two separate events, both being held at the Ninth Avenue side of the firehouse at the 9/11 Memorial Monument on Sept. 11. The morning ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m., and the evening candlelight vigil will begin at 8 p.m. Both ceremonies are set around an eight-foot, 8,000-pound steel beam from Ground Zero that the department received from the Port Authority. During the ceremony, firefighters will read victim’s names, and sirens will sound to commemorate the collapse of the twin towers. The Northport High School Tights will sing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful,” with “Amazing Grace” played by the Northport Pipe & Drum Band. There will be a 21-gun salute from the Marine Corps League and the release of memorial doves.  A memorial banner will be displayed on a fire engine that lists all of the victim’s names. A Suffolk County Police Department helicopter will be doing a flyover during the ceremony. 

Huntington Town will also be holding a small ceremony at Heckscher Park at noon this Friday, Sept. 9.

Smithtown

Members of the East Northport Fire Department participate in the annual 9/11 memorial service on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Members of the East Northport Fire Department participate in the annual 9/11 memorial service on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Commack School District will be presenting a candlelight ceremony of remembrance. It will be held at the Commack High School football field at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11. The 9/11 Memorial Players, Mimi Juliano, Mark Newman and Joe Zogbi, will perform music, and honorary guest speakers will attend.

The St. James Fire Department will also be hosting a service at 6 p.m. Sunday at the 9/11 memorial at the firehouse. Local legislators will speak, the Smithtown High School band and choir will perform, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9486 will perform a gun salute. The names of Smithtown residents and community members who lost their lives on Sept. 11 will be read including New York Police Officer Glenn Pettit, New York Fire Department Chief Lawrence Stack, New York Fire Department Chief Donald Burns, Port Authority Officer Jean Andrucki and New York Fireman Doug Oelschlager.

Brookhaven

The Order Sons of Italy in America will host its seventh annual 9/11 tribute. The candlelight remembrance is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at Harborfront Park at Port Jefferson Village Center located at 101A East Broadway. The event will feature guest speakers and refreshments. All are welcome. For more information contact Anthony Rotoli Jr. at 631-928-7489.

The Sons of Italy Lodge was renamed the Vigiano Brothers Lodge to honor Port Jefferson residents. John Vigiano Jr. was a firefighter and Joseph Vigiano was a police detective.  On Sept. 11, 2001, both Vigiano brothers responded to the call to the World Trade Center, and both were killed while saving others. John Vigiano Sr. is a retired NYC firefighter whose two sons followed him into service.  The attacks of 9/11 inflicted a tremendous loss on his family and also on our country. Therefore, we honored these two heroes and their family by naming the Sons of Italy Lodge after them in Port Jefferson.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department will host its annual 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 9:30 a.m. At the Maple Place firehouse, firefighters and residents will gather to pay their respects to those who died in the terrorist attacks in 2001, including first responders from the Town of Brookhaven who perished while answering the call of duty at the World Trade Center. The ceremony includes a memorial service in which the names of the town firefighters who died that day will be read aloud.

An official plays the bugle at Port Jefferson Fire Department's 13th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony. Photo by Giselle Barkley
An official plays the bugle at Port Jefferson Fire Department’s 13th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 Memorial Committee invites the communities of Rocky Point and Shoreham to its 15th Annual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. This ceremony will take place at the 9/11 Community Memorial site which is located on the corner of Route 25A and Tesla Street in Shoreham, next to the Shoreham Firehouse. Light refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

In honor of the 15th anniversary of the events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, the Setauket Fire District will host a community 9/11 remembrance ceremony Sunday, Sept. 11, beginning at 10 a.m. The program will take place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, located at 394 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook. The ceremony will include brief remarks from department representatives, a moment of silence and the official dedication of the two “survivor trees” recently planted in the fire district’s 9/11 Memorial Park. These trees were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. Light refreshments will follow the ceremony, and attendees will be invited to visit the different sections of the expanded Setauket 9/11 Memorial Park, which also includes a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11 and a patriotic water display.

The Alumni Association of Stony Brook University will sponsor a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, throughout Monday, Sept. 12, with a field of pinwheels on the Academic Mall. This is the third year that the event will be held. Students and faculty are invited to take a moment to remember those lost.

Jim Feeley has been living in Centerport for most of his life. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A Centerport resident has planted deep roots in the community where he grew up.

Jim Feeley has been an active volunteer in the Centerport Fire Department for the past 50 years, joining in June 1965.

During his tenure he served as chief of the department twice and a volunteer  EMT on the Centerport Rescue Squad. He was a member of the board of fire commissioners and the president of the Town of Huntington Fire Chiefs Council. Last year he was named Firefighter/EMT of the Year in the 18th Legislative District.

His parents built their house on Fleets Cove Road in Centerport, and Feeley met his wife Joan while walking along Fleets Cove Beach.

“I loved living across from the golf course,” Feeley said in a phone interview. “I used to hunt and explore the grounds with my brothers.”

Feeley is a 1964 Harborfields graduate, and his wife is a graduate of Walt Whitman. When it came time to decide where to raise a family, they both agreed they wanted to continue living in Centerport.

Feeley said he remembers the exact night when he decided to join the Centerport Fire Department, back in the spring of ’65 while shooting pool with his brother at an old bar in Centerport, at just 19 years of age.

“I learned a lot about my neighborhood,” he said. “There will always be someone to help you out; someone you can trust.”

Over the years, Feeley said he had been proud of the department for its active drill team, which has participated in many tournaments, and the camaraderie and closeness of the department as a whole.

According to Feeley, the fire department used to organize multifamily camping trips in the 1970s and ‘80s, and members of the Northport Fire Department even got involved.

“These are the same guys I’ve been meeting for coffee for the past 50 years,” he said. “Everyone has each other’s back. I don’t know where else you would find that.”

Feeley reflected on some of the big fires he’s worked on in his half century with the department.

“In 1966 at Gidyes Inn in Centerport, we worked on a fire for 25 hours,” he said. Gidyes Inn used to stand on Main Street where the U.S. Post Office now stands.

Feeley remembered a fire in 1972 where he and many of his family members left the table at Thanksgiving dinner to go put out a fire on Little Neck Road. The fire had gotten so big that embers were landing on boats floating near the house, which was located on the water.

Feeley’s brother, two daughters and two nephews also volunteer at the Centerport Fire Department. His wife is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the department.

In his off time, Feeley said he enjoys gardening at the Huntington Town’s garden plot in Greenlawn on Dunlop Road and participating in the Knights of Columbus in Greenlawn.

Feeley was recently recognized for his years of service by Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) at a February Suffolk County Legislature meeting.

“James Feeley is an outstanding example of a true public servant,” Spencer said in a statement. “It is a privilege to be able to recognize and thank him for his inspiring service to our community.”

Triple cancer survivor, veteran and volunteer firefighter seeks to give back to community

Albert Statton, above, stands in his gear as a Greenlawn firefighter. Photo from Statton

A Greenlawn volunteer firefighter, Army veteran and three-time cancer survivor has faced many battles in his life, but now he is fighting a different kind of battle.

Albert Statton, 64, created the Operation Enduring Care project at the Greenlawn Fire Department to collect food and clothing donations to help people who need immediate assistance and “offer them some type of comfort.” All of the donations collected will be given to The Salvation Army-managed homeless shelter at the Northport VA Affairs Medical Center.

Statton was drafted into the military in 1970 and served as a combat medic in Germany, Asia and across the United States. He finished his last tour of duty in the late 1990s but returned to his roots when he received treatment at the Northport VA after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He found solace in dropping off items at the shelter on his way to chemotherapy.

“When being treated, it’s a physical and a mental battle,” Statton said in a phone interview. “I had highs and lows. I tried to make it a positive by bringing donations to shelter, so instead of going for me I was helping someone.”

He said the shelter for homeless veterans gets as many as 60 families a week that ask for assistance, especially during the holiday season.

Statton’s desire to help others is something he said he learned as a firefighter.

“You never say, ‘I was a firefighter.’ I am a firefighter and the things I have learned are ingrained in me forever.”

He said the volunteers at Greenlawn took his sick father to the hospital more than 20 times, so afterward he wanted to make a donation to the department to say thank you.

“I realized I didn’t have enough money to repay a debt like that,” Statton said. “I wanted to give back to the community the same way they did to my father.”

Statton served his community proudly until he was diagnosed with cancer.

He is impressed with the level of dedication all of the volunteers at Greenlawn bring to their work and how much they learned about the rescue system.

“So many people take the time to raise the bar on what’s available for the community,” Statton said.

He credits his cancer recovery to the members of the fire department for their inspiration and good wishes while he was sick, and their visits to his bedside at the hospital to pray with him.

One story in particular stands out in his mind: Statton, in the hospital, was once so battered by his treatment that he stopped breathing, and he found out later that at that same moment his comrades had begun a prayer group for him. He regained his ability to breathe minutes later.

“I had a very supportive network of brothers and sisters that encouraged me to persevere,” he said. “My respect and my love goes very deep for the fire department.”

Donations to support Statton’s effort to give back to local veterans can be dropped off at 23 Boulevard Ave. in Greenlawn. Statton said canned meats and vegetables are in high demand, as well as packaged undergarments and socks.

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The early morning fire sent one emergency responder to the hospital. Photo by Jeff Bressler

Marquette Drive in St. James became ground zero over the weekend after an early morning fire took over a residential home and sent one firefighter to the hospital, officials said.

The blaze broke out around 2:10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 9, when the Smithtown Fire Department received a report of a structural fire with possible occupants inside the home, Public Information Officer Jeff Bressler said.

The early morning fire sent one emergency responder to the hospital. Photo by Jeff Bressler
The early morning fire sent one emergency responder to the hospital. Photo by Jeff Bressler

The ferocious fight sent one Smithtown firefighter to Stony Brook University Hospital to be treated for a minor injury associated with the emergency response, Bressler said.

“Upon arrival, the call was upgraded to a fully involved structural fire,” Bressler said. “Three occupants were assisted out of the house before units arrived. The occupants were taken by the Smithtown Fire Department and Kings Park Fire Department ambulances to Stony Brook University Medical Center.”

Bressler said emergency responders deployed two hoses to fight the flames and also utilized a ladder from Company 7 for assistance.

At one point, the flames became so out of control that the fire started to spread to an adjacent house before being put out with significant damage to the siding, Bressler said.

By the time the blaze had been doused, Smithtown saw emergency response assistance from fire departments in St. James, Nesconset, Hauppauge, Kings Park and Nissequogue, Bressler said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Bressler said.

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