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Rocky Point Fire Department has added a new member to its commissioner board. File photo by Kevin Redding

Ray Strong has helped put out more fires across Rocky Point and Shoreham than he can remember. He has saved countless residents from burning buildings. He stood at Ground Zero to aid in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But entering his 40th year in fire and rescue service, Strong, 59, is stepping into uncharted territory within his field as he begins a five-year term on the Rocky Point Fire District’s five-member board of commissioners.

Strong, who joined the Rocky Point Fire Department in 1978 and later served as chief, was elected commissioner Dec. 12 after running unopposed to fill a vacant seat left by former commissioner Gene Buchner, who opted not to run again after his own five-year term ended. A total of 159 votes were cast, and Strong received 153 votes.

Fireman Ray Strong, on the scene, has been elected the newest Rocky Point fire commission board member Dec. 12. Photo by Dennis Whittam

He will be officially sworn in Jan. 9 and said he hopes to apply his  four decades of hands-on experience and knowledge as both a volunteer and career fireman to the job and better protect the community in which he grew up and lives.

“I want to continue to be an asset to the department,” Strong said. “After 40 years of fighting fires, I think I have enough experience to help me make the difficult decisions that have to be made in regard to protecting our communities and making sure our first responders are getting the best education, training and care. This is going to be a learning experience for me, but I’m looking forward to helping keep the ball rolling.”

Commissioner duties are generally divided among the board members and  include overseeing budgets and insurance policies within the district, maintaining the custody and control of all village property of the fire department, and purchasing necessary equipment to prevent and extinguish fires or administer first aid within the area.

“I’m going to do the best I can in whatever job I’m given,” said Strong, who will still serve as a firefighter while in his new position. “My mission in life has always been to be a firefighter and now hopefully a good commissioner. I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

He had his first brush with the department as a member of its drum and bugle corps when he was a student at Rocky Point High School, marching in parades and routinely interacting with its members at the firehouse. He became a volunteer at 19 in March 1978 and was trained in first aid and firefighting tactics before taking advanced classes in both. Just two months in, Strong responded to a call to extinguish a major 24-hour fire at a squab farm on Randall Road in Shoreham — still the biggest one he’s ever faced.

“I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

— Ray Strong

“I’ll never forget that,” he said, claiming that fire better prepared him for the job more than any training course could have.

Within Rocky Point, he has primarily served in the district’s North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse, on King Road, while also volunteering for a few years at Mastic Beach Fire District. In 1985 Strong was hired as a career fireman within the New York City Fire Department, where he ultimately climbed the ladder to lieutenant of Rescue Company 4 in Woodside, Queens, and served there until he retired in 2016.

“Ray’s going to bring a lot of firsthand experience to the position, which really helps,” said district vice chairman, Kirk Johnson. “He has a ton of knowledge, too, as far as what equipment is needed for firefighters to do their jobs properly and to keep them safe.”

Johnson added that Strong will be particularly helpful when it comes to monitoring the district’s newly passed capital projects to replace the North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse with a safer, more updated one, and acquire a new fire truck.

“He knows every nook and cranny of that building,” Johnson said.

Bill Lattman, an ex-chief at Rocky Point, has been working alongside Strong since 1982 and said there’s nobody better for the job.

Ray Strong, with wife Iris, is a longtime Rocky Point resident. Photo from Ray Strong

“He’s a great guy and an extremely loyal friend to everyone,” Lattman said. “He’s always been a very hands-on person within the fire district and has been involved in everything in our department. He’s definitely going to bring a lot to the table. He’s going to be a very good asset to the district and the community.”

As an FDNY member, Strong not only saved lives, but bettered them. In 2013 he started a nonprofit motorcycle club called Axemen M/C NY-3, geared toward raising money for special needs children of FDNY firefighters through annual fundraisers and charity events. The organization, which has raised more than $25,000 since 2015, came out of Strong’s own experience with two daughters born with cerebral palsy, both of whom passed away in recent years due to complications with the illness.

“He’s the most kindhearted and giving man that I know,” said his wife Iris Strong. “Anything he puts his mind to, he gives 100 percent. He’s always looking out for everybody else and if anybody ever needs help with anything, he’s right there and he’ll never ask for any help back. That’s just his nature.”

As commissioner, Strong said he hopes to  strengthen the department’s community relations and keep residents more aware of what goes on within the district. He encourages young people to give volunteering a shot.

“Everybody in fire service started out as a person who just wanted to help their community,” Strong said. “This is what has driven me for decades. People’s lives are being saved daily by your local volunteers, and it’s nothing but a great feeling.”

20th Street renamed Thomas Lateulere Street in memory of firefighter, good neighbor

Wading River Fire Department unveiled the new Thomas Lateulere Street sign on 20th Street Aug. 30. Photo by Robert Quaranta

By Kyle Barr

Under the newly-placed sign that says Thomas Lateulere Street high above their heads, family, friends, neighbors and volunteer firemen of the Wading River Fire Department could only remember the man the street was named after as a modest, kind and gentle soul who gave everything he had to the fire department and the community.

“It was great of the fire department to honor him like this — I never expected it, and the crowd that came, never,” Thomas Lateulere mother Joann said as she walked back to her house on the street now named after her son. “They all came to honor him, which was wonderful.”

Family memebrers, friends, members of the Wading River Fire Department and Riverhead Town were on site for the renaming of 20th Street as Lateulere Street, in memory of Thomas Lateulere, an ex-chief of Wading River Fire Department who lost a battle with cancer in 2016. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Volunteer firefighters, public officials, neighbors and friends of Thomas Lateulere, a commissioner and ex-chief in Wading River who died last July after a battle with cancer, all came to honor the man as his name was dedicated to the street where he grew up.

“He worked up until the last day he had to go to the hospital and he died,” said Latuelere’s former girlfriend Raegin Kellerman. “He was still there training students, and he was just a good man, a very good man. He loved it, too, it was a passion for him. He just enjoyed training his members on all these new advancements. He was all into new technology, new medical care and he did his research on everything. He just really loved them, it was a family to him.”

Lateulere had worked with the Wading River Fire Department and EMS for 35 years. He started when he was a young teen as a junior for the department, and he moved up through the ranks until he reached commissioner and chief. He was also one of the first paramedics to work with Suffolk County’s medevac helicopters, which are used to transport those in need of medical attention to a hospital.

“He was a really caring guy, cared about the members down here,” said current Wading River Fire Chief Kevin McQueeney. “He was the kind of guy that if your son was hurt, you wanted him to show up on the call — you knew that he was the best of the best. He is missed down here; he was a guidance down here.”

Neighbors who lived close to Lateulere said they felt safe with him nearby. Many of them knew him as “Tommy.”

“Almost everybody on this street had to call an ambulance at some time or another,” said Wading River resident and neighbor Chris Hopkins. “He heard it on the radio and he was there within two minutes He personally came twice in the middle of the night when I needed an ambulance, he was in my house within a minute taking charge of everybody, even telling the ambulance people to take good care of me. Everyone up and down our street he was there for. He was a shy fellow, but he was amazing; he was so amazing.”

Members of the Wading River Fire Department honored former chief Thomas Lateulere during a street-renaming ceremony. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Few roads have been dedicated to individuals, so Riverhead Town Highway DepartmentDeputy Superintendent Mike Zaleski said that it would be a nice way to remember the man who touched the lives of so many.

“I would say we might have dedicated fice streets to individuals, and I’ve been with the town going on 24 years,” Zakesji said.”It has to be very noteworthy, somebody special,. It’s well deserved here.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the steet renaming was the least the town could do.

“I mean he’s a 35-year volunteer and commissioner of the fire department, EMS worker and trainer — there are very few people in the world who excel at that level, especially to protect life safety,” Walter said.

Kellerman said that the street sign should also serve as a call for more people to volunteer their time to the local fire department and EMS, showing how the service of the men and women on call all day ever week does not go unoticed, and how the dedication and service can affect and save lives.

“They’re out at 2 or 3 in the morning helping people, and the rest of us are sleeping,” she said. “The ambulances, the fire departments, we need volunteers, we need volunteers to keep people safe.”

The name Thomas Lateulere is an addition to 20th street, so that maps will not be affected or changed, and so that the renaming doesn’t lead to confusion. Lateulere might have appreciated that — just another small sacrifice for even the smallest greater good.

“I think he would be shy and embarrassed by it, all this hoopla,” Hopkins said. “But I think he would secretly be quite proud.”

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.’”

Local fire districts salute Thomas Lateulere, as HIS coffin is carried out of St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

By Wenhao Ma

The Wading River community bid farewell Friday to an impactful, friendly and unforgettable first responder.

Many gathered at St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River Friday morning to attend the funeral of Thomas Lateulere, the director of training and education for Suffolk County’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Council, and former commissioner of the Wading River Fire District.

Lateulere, 52, who by many was referred to as a “true gentleman” and “professional man,” died of an illness on June 27. A wake was held on June 30, at the Wading Fire Department headquarters.

“He was a selfless guy,” said Kevin McQueeney, first assistant chief of the Wading River Fire Department, who had known Lateulere for 35 years. “When he was sick, he didn’t tell anybody how sick he was. He’s just a selfless, selfless individual.”

Locals pay respect to Thomas Lateulere during mass outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma
Locals pay respect to Thomas Lateulere during mass outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

Lateulere, who worked up until days before his death, joined the fire department right after high school, as a volunteer, in 1981, and by the following year, was a trained firefighter and emergency medical technician. He spent time as one of the first flight paramedics to fly with Suffolk County police’s emergency aviation unit, and according to Tony Bitalvo, second assistant chief of the Wading River Fire Department, Lateulere was an advocate for the pilot program, among other pilot programs. He served as an advocate at the state level.

Lateulere also convinced the department to get involved with cutting-edge technologies and ways to save lives, such as narcan, an anti-overdose treatment, which he pushed for as leader of Suffolk REMSCO.

“The things he brought to our department was unprecedented,” Bitalvo said. “He’s just somebody we always relied and counted on. It’s a tremendous loss for the Wading River Fire Department and the community in general.”

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad showed respect to Lateulere by thanking him “for all his service to our organization and the entire EMS community” on its official Facebook page.

Bitalvo said that Lateulere had influenced Emergency Medical Technicians across Long Island.

“His training and patience touched every aspect of the EMS field,” he said.

Bernice Bien-Aime, the Chief of Operations Wyandanch-Wheatley Heights Ambulance Corp., had one such experience with Lateulere. When the two first met in 1995, Bien-Aime was a rookie EMT. She remembers Lateulere as a humble, caring and passionate person.

“I’ve always heard of paramedics having the ‘Paragod’ complex,” Bien-Aime said, but immediately got the vibe from Lateulere that with him, it was quite the opposite. “Now here comes Tom, literally coming from the sky, and he was the kindest paramedic.”

The Wading River Fire Department honors Thomas Lateulere during mass, outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma
The Wading River Fire Department honors Thomas Lateulere during mass, outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

She recalled Latuelere’s reassurance and help following taking the Suffolk County protocol exam to become a credentialed EMT. Although her Advanced Emergency Medical Technician -Critical Care certification was completed in Nassau County, she wanted to work in Suffolk.

After taking the test, Lauteulere, seeing she was nervous, called Bien-Aime to the side.

“Relax, you got this,” she recalls Lauteulere telling her.

“Oh, I passed?” she asked in response.

“No,” she remembers him answering, with a smile. “If this was Nassau County, yes. But this is Suffolk. Our protocols are different. You know this stuff. Now relax and remember you’re in Suffolk. Now, retake your test.”

Thousands of first responders went through Lauteulere directly, learning how to save lives from a man who demanded perfection and knew how to bring it out in his fellow emergency medical teams.

“[He was] patient with this rookie EMT,” Bien-Aime said. “That is a feeling I’ve never forgotten.”

Sharing a similar feeling was Branden Heller, who is now the third assistant chief of Wading River Fire Department. Fifteen years ago when he first came to the department, Lateulere was the chief.

“[He’s] a major inspiration and a natural leader,” Heller said.

Many at the funeral looked to Lateulere as not only an influential figure in the EMS community, but the community itself.

“He saved countless lives,” McQueeney said of Lateulere. “He’s irreplaceable, and I firmly believe that.”

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