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Port Jefferson Fire Department

While not as bad as last year, village continues plans to reduce water’s impact

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

July 22 was a sudden reminder of a certain day last year in September, when water ran down Main Street like a river, and parts of Port Jefferson were drowned in water.

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

Instead, July 22 was a moderate rain by comparison, only hit with 2.35 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, instead of the more-than 4 inches it received in that last major storm.

Still reeling from massive flash floods that inundated Port Jefferson village last year, those who were most impacted by the September waters said they were more prepared for the high waters this year. 

Brennan Holmes, the chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said they had learned from their mistakes last year, and for the first time put into practice their new flood protocols.

“Last night was a good test,” Holmes said the day after the flooding. “Although there was a lot of water, it went by real quick.”

Last year waters reached nearly 5 feet in the main firehouse, though this year the fire department moved its emergency vehicles from the department building up to the higher ends of Maple Place, but waters didn’t enter the firehouse. The department also made use of a recently converted high-water rescue vehicle, donated by the Miller Place Fire Department. That was available as well as department members in water rescue suits, according to Holmes.

In addition to dealing with the flooding, the department responded to two automatic alarms caused by lightning, three welfare checks on the businesses of Ruvo East, Old Fields Restaurant and Theatre Three, all of which had been hard hit last year. The department also assisted in removing a person from a vehicle which was situated in about a foot of water.

The fire department closed off Main Street for about an hour from around 7 p.m. to a little after 8 p.m. Holmes said this resulted in much less traffic into and out of the village, making it much safer for motorists.

“We fared much better than last September, which we’re really happy about,” the fire chief said.

Mayor Margot Garant was adamant that last year’s high of 4 inches of rain dropped in under an hour plus the high water table led to the described devastation. She said she is especially concerned the idea of Port Jefferson as a flooding town will impact the village’s image and its businesses.

“I think everybody has to think that was such an exceptional event,” she said. “It’s all about the tide. If there had been a coastal storm surge, it would have been a different scenario. It’s a coastal resiliency issue.”

Last September one of the most heavily impacted by the flooding was Theatre Three, which received nearly 4 feet of water in its downstairs area, causing thousands upon thousands of dollars in damage to props, costumes and electrical equipment.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood.”

— Brian Hoerger

Brian Hoerger, the facilities manager for the theater, was at the head of last year’s cleanup, coordinating close to 50 volunteers in cleaning up the mess left by that storm. On his Facebook page, Hoerger said seeing the waters roll down Main Street reminded him of the harrowing September flood.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood,” Hoerger wrote.

The back doors by Theatre Three had waters rising close to 2 feet, according to the theater facilities manager, though only around 3 inches made its way through the lower doors since he was able to stack sandbags at the breach. Still, pictures showed water was making its way through cracks in the brickwork like sprinklers.

Hoerger, along with Steve Ayle, an actor in the theater, moved the precious theater items to higher ground while helping to vacuum up the muddy liquid in the theater’s lower floor.

Garant responded to Hoerger on Facebook showing him potential flood resistant door panels to resist rain, though Hoerger said much of the water came up from under the building as they sit on a below-ground creek.

What is currently being done to prevent flooding

Three months ago, Port Jefferson officials approved a scoping of the water line that runs and empties into Mill Creek, though Garant said while they wait for the engineers report to return to the village, they believe there is a low point in the line underneath the grass by the basketball courts where a pumping system might be able to help that water flow faster, and not get caught up in and around the low point by those nearby restaurants and Theatre Three.

In June, Campani and Schwarting Architects released a draft version of the Watershed Management and Storm Surge Study. Though the architects have yet to publish a full report, the draft discussed potentially daylighting Mill Creek, along with the culvert at the Brookhaven parking lot by the harbor and the Meadow parking lot. It also mentioned a permeable pavement system in municipal lots, along with rain gardens at low areas such as an expansion of the pond by Old Fields and the Brookhaven parking lot.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment back in September 2018. File Photo by Kyle Barr

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

The village would also look to implement long-term projects, including daylighting Mill Creek, reducing impermeable paving throughout the village, introducing bioswales and rain gardens as part of the storm drainage system and redesigning the parking areas at the waterfront to mitigate flooding.

“There’s proactive measures and there’s mitigation measures,” Garant said. “We’re throwing the kitchen sink at the state to help us with these coastal resiliency issues.”

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

In this case, the village would have to put the money upfront and be paid back from the grant funds at a later date. The deadline for those grants is Friday, July 26.

Garant said that soon the village will be partnering with the Long Island Explorium in Port Jeff in constructing three rain gardens using $43,626 in grant funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative. These will be located in front of Village Hall, at Village Center and a final one in the traffic barrier next to the loading ramp for the ferry.

Deal looks to make headway on Station Street

The current Texaco Parking lot was phase three of the Uptown Funk project. Phase three is to be Station Street, built when the Conifer project is finalized. Photo by David Luces

A small parcel on Oakland Avenue in Upper Port Jefferson is part of a planned sale between the Port Jefferson Fire District and Port Jefferson village in order to make room for Station Street, the last part of the eponymous Uptown Funk project.

Mayor Margot Garant said the village has purchased the property for $25,000 as part of a handshake deal with the fire department as an element of creating Station Street. That project has been on hold until final design plans come forward from the Conifer project, which would create mixed-use apartments and retail space in the footprint of the old Bada Bing parcel.

Though the property sale is only one bump toward getting the new street built, it does cross over a small piece of old time village history.

The property, a sand lot of only around 20 or so feet, was once home to one of the district’s siren towers. At its infancy, it was just a simple bell rung by hand to alert neighbors there was a fire.

Fire District Manager Doug Savage said that those towers were used by the district in the mid-20th century, though they were phased out with the advent of modern communication technology. At one point the district contained three of these sirens, with one near the elementary school still being around. The one on top of the firehouse is the only one still used. 

“That’s all they had to alert people of a fire call,” he said. 

The pole that contained the bell had rotted out, cracked and fell down likely over 20 years ago, Savage said.

Garant said it is a good deal for the fire department, who hasn’t found a use for the property in years.

“They could use the coin in the bank,” she said.

Tom Totton, the fire district commissioners chairman of the board, said the property is not big enough for anyone to build upon. 

In a legal notice published by The Port Times Record, it notes the real property is valued at more than $20,000 and less than $100,000. The notice said it has also deemed the property surplus to the fire district.

“The village wants that piece of property, so we have a deal to sell them the property,” he said.

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Street sign for the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fire department says light is unnecessary

Red means stop. 

Motorists traveling down Main Street in the Village of Port Jefferson may soon come face to face with a new traffic light at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. That corner is notorious for traffic especially around 2 p.m. when the high school and middle school lets out.

The new light is planned to be installed with a 3M Opticom system, which allows emergency vehicles to automatically change a light while they are moving through. While these could mean a more orderly road, the Port Jefferson Fire Department has said it would need to add costly upgrades to their emergency vehicles to be usable by the department.

“We’re going to have to work with the fire department because they need those mechanisms in their trucks, whether they’re installed in the lights or not,” village Mayor Margot Garant said. “We need to mitigate the way that traffic is flying down the hill.”

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff.”

— Margot Garant

The New York State Department of Transportation confirmed it will make those changes to the intersection and pay the costs of installation, as well as change the island at the corner of Barnum Avenue and Main Street to make it a single crosswalk instead of two crosswalks separated by the current island.

Plans have changed since they were initially introduced to the community. Originally those plans called for an island on Main Street just after the Liberty intersection. However, that island has since been changed to double yellow lines after concerns came up about getting snowplows through.

The most contentious part of the new plans comes from the fire department, which worries about the expensive cost of getting the Opticom system installed on all 17 of the department’s first-responding vehicles.

Garant said she is willing to have the village partner with the fire department in seeking grant funding. This would be especially important with more stop lights planned for different parts of the village, including at the top of Belle Terre Road, Sheep Pasture Road and Myrtle Avenue, the latter light will have an Opticom box donated from Suffolk County, according to the village mayor. 

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff,” Garant said. “All of our lights should have that capability to have the fire department change the lights anyway.”

The department sent a letter to the engineering firm L.K. McLean Associates, of Brookhaven, that drew up the original plans, while giving a copy to the mayor, reading, “Each time that discussion has come up our department has opposed it.”

In the letter, Port Jefferson Fire Chief Brennan Holmes questioned the purpose of the traffic light on Liberty, saying they have reviewed the traffic collisions in that area, and over the past five years, the vehicle-pedestrian accidents responded to occurred at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Main Street, mainly caused by visibility issues and not speeding. 

“For the fire department it presents a great difficulty getting down Main Street,” Holmes said. “It’s not solving the issue they described as the problem.”

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light.”

— Brennan Holmes

Though Holmes said he would accept the help of the village finding funding for the Opticom system, he added that a light could still cause huge backup for his fleet of vehicles, especially if multiples need to get through the intersection at once.

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light,” he said. “In addition, it will change the light and give you the green, but during our response you might have multiple vehicles … we might have total congestion there.”

Garant said the decision for the light was made not just by her, but by the DOT in trying to mitigate pedestrian accidents on that road. Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman for the state DOT said the new light was part of the state’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, a $110 million program which started in 2016 aiming to improve pedestrian safety through infrastructure development. He added the light should be installed by 2020.

Currently, none of the stoplights in the village have the Opticom technology. Village Department of Public Works Superintendent Steve Gallagher said there are three lights owned by the village and the rest owned by New York State. The village is in charge of the lights at Myrtle and Belle Terre Road, at North Country Road and Belle Terre Road, and North Country and North Columbia Street.

The Town of Brookhaven has already equipped many of the stoplights on major town roads with the Opticom system and provided grants to assist fire departments in equipping their vehicles with the light-changing devices, except Port Jefferson Fire Department.

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By Alex Petroski & Kyle Barr

Those strolling through Port Jefferson Village on the morning of Sept. 26 couldn’t stride too far without hearing the distinct sound of Shop-Vacs. The area was hit with more than 4 inches of rain during the evening into the night Sept. 25, according to the National Weather Service, leading to severe flooding in Port Jefferson Village.

The intense rain storm flooded businesses, the Port Jefferson Fire Department and even forced emergency evacuations from Theatre Three. Fire department Chief Brennan Holmes said water levels on the department’s grounds on Maple Place reached about 5 feet high.

“The problem with this was it was 4 inches of rain in an hour and a half, so it rose so quickly that a chief’s car got stuck in a flash flood, we couldn’t get the trucks out,” he said Wednesday morning as cleanup efforts were already well underway. He added he had just spoken to Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R), whose department was helping out with the cleanup effort. “I think we took 10 people out of flooded cars.”

Christian Neubert, a member of the fire department, said around 8 p.m. Tuesday night people were trapped in their cars in the vicinity of Wynn Lane, as well as others on Liberty Avenue near Port Jefferson High School. Holmes said between 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. the department responded to 14 alarms related to the flooding.

In addition to damage to at least one department car, Holmes said the radio room also flooded, sustaining damage that was still being assessed Wednesday.

“We had a lot of stuff damaged,” Holmes said. “Usually [some flooding is] easily mitigated. We’re good with that. We get the trucks out and up the hill. This just came so fast and so quick and so much that it was tough.”

Theatre Three was inundated with water during the storm. The deluge left a watermark 4 feet high in the theater’s basement, high enough to nearly pour over the bar and stools used for the theater’s comedy nights.

Theatre Three president, Andrew Markowitz, said the flooding started around 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25. The water reached high enough to muddy the costumes and props the theater was to use in this upcoming Friday’s production of “The Addams Family,” many of which will have to be quickly replaced. Worse still, much of the theater’s lighting apparatus was stored downstairs, and personnel were still determining what needed to be repaired or replaced Wednesday.

“We have a lot of volunteers who are helping out, but anyone who wants to come down and clean they are welcome,” Markowitz said.

The office on a lower floor used by Jeffrey Sanzel, the theater’s executive artistic director, was nearly submerged. The small office contained innumerable books, original stage scripts and stage props, many of which Sanzel said were completely ruined by the rushing waters. He estimated several thousand dollars worth of items were destroyed. However, their loss means much more to him on a personal level.

“I spend more time in that office than I do in my own house, and everything in my desk, from my shelves down, is gone,” Sanzel said, his pants stained with mud. “The personal stuff — it’s just gone, I’ve never seen it like this. But then again, we could be in the Carolinas, you have to put things in proportion.”

At the same time the theater was hosting about 40 children and their families in auditions for its yearly portrayal of “A Christmas Carol.” Since the kids had nowhere to go with the several-foot-deep waters outside, Sanzel said they simply continued on with the auditions in order to keep the kids calm.

Holmes indicated that while the flooding was catastrophic, it occurred during low tide. When asked what this storm might have looked like had it happened during high tide, the chief responded, “We don’t want to know.”

Markowitz said Theatre Three is still waiting for the assessment on total damages, but he feared the cost could be astronomical. He said the theater would work hard over the next days to make sure the production of “The Addams Family” goes on, despite the flooding.

“The show must go on,” he said.

Donations are already pouring in, and theater operators said they have received close to $5,000 just in the morning hours after the flood.

For more information, go to the website: www.theatrethreetickets.com/donations.

A Port Jefferson firefighter emerges from the drain with Holmes the kitten in tow. Photo from Fred Leute

The idea of firefighters rescuing a kitten in distress is so overdone from movies to fictional novels it’s almost cliché, but in Port Jeff Village, life imitated art Aug. 31.

Strong Island Animal Rescue League Erica Kutzing and Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant with kitten Holmes. Photo from Strong Island’s Facebook page

Brennan Holmes, chief of Port Jefferson Fire Department, said he was driving near the intersection of Winston Drive and Ronald Court Friday night when a resident walking a dog flagged him down saying a kitten appeared to have fallen down a storm drain. Holmes got out of his car to take a look. The kitten was at the bottom of the drain about 12 feet down. The chief said firefighters were out doing driver training at that time, so he radioed them to come provide assistance. When they arrived, the firefighters lifted the drain’s enclosure and sent a member down a ladder to retrieve the meowing feline.

Fred Leute, acting chief of the village’s Code Enforcement, said he got a call from Mayor Margot Garant as the rescue was unfolding and hustled to the scene to offer his assistance. When he arrived, Holmes said he jokingly told Leute it was his responsibility to find the cat a home. Leute said he already had that taken care of — Garant offered to adopt the kitten. She named her new friend Holmes in honor of the fire chief.

“Not a typical day at all — I’ve been taking some ribbing at the firehouse about it,” the fire chief said. “It’s kind of cool — it shows the village and fire department are close and work together.”

A Port Jefferson firefighter emerges from the drain with Holmes the kitten in tow. Photo from Fred Leute

Holmes, the cat, spent a night at the mayor’s home, where its road to recovery began. Unfortunately, the next day it was determined Holmes required additional medical attention as her fur was riddled with quite a few ticks. These health concerns precipitated a transfer of residence to Strong Island Animal Rescue League for the time being. The organization posted a video on its Facebook page updating the public on Holmes’ recovery a few days later, indicating she was doing much better.

“This was a lot of fun actually,” Leute said.

He said once Holmes was out of the drain he grabbed a box from his patrol car, added some holes and placed her on the floor of the car on the passenger side as the responders wrapped up their job. After a little while, someone alerted the code enforcement officer that Holmes was walking around on the car’s dashboard.

“We got an escape artist,” he said.

Leute said he stopped at the grocery store on his way to Garant’s house to grab some water and food for Holmes — a salmon pate.

Chief Holmes commended the firefighters who responded to his call and came to help out, saying they did a great job.

“That was pretty cool,” he said. “We’re always happy to help out in any way that we can.”

Port Jefferson Village was splashed red, white and blue for its annual 4th of July Parade, hosted by the Port Jefferson Fire Department. Marchers participated from neighboring fire departments and local businesses, as well as elected officials and many other community groups. Thousands gathered on Main Street to celebrate the Independence Day pomp and circumstance.

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.

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.

Remembrances and memorials were held across the North Shore Monday to honor those lost as a result of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department held its annual 9/11 ceremony on the grounds of the department. The department’s flag was raised to half mast, a bell was rung to remember each of the Brookhaven Town residents who died that day and the Port Jefferson Middle School Orchestra accompanied the event with performances.

The Setauket Fire District held its annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony at the district’s Memorial Park on Nicolls Road in Stony Brook.

Residents, elected officials and firefighters from Rocky Point, Shoreham, Miller Place and beyond gathered at the Rocky Point Fire Department 9/11 Memorial Ceremony to honor those who lost their lives.

Hundreds of Huntington residents attended “We Stand United In Love,” a multi-faith candlelight prayer service remembering 9/11 and its victims in Heckscher Park.

This version will be updated with photos from more events.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Thanks to the start of a pilot program this past weekend, one of the most difficult aspects of life in Port Jefferson Village was a little easier. Finding parking has long been a complaint of visitors to Port Jeff, especially during the summer months. In an effort to address the problem, a joint venture valet parking service spearheaded by the Business Improvement District, the village and the Port Jefferson School District kicked off July 14.

According to Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president, 12 drivers utilized the service on July 14, 51 on July 15 and 12 on July 16, during the first weekend of its availability. He added the service operated without incident during the three-day span.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

“Overall it went well,” Schafer said in a phone interview. “Every time something new happens you expect an adjustment period.”

Port Jeff Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the parking committee, said during a public board meeting July 17 he received correspondence from the Port Jefferson Fire Department with concerns about a lack of signage.

The entrance to the municipal lot across from the fire department on Maple Place was supposed to operate as a “one-way” street during the hours of operation of the service, with cars only being allowed to exit the lot via Maple. A “Do not Enter” sign was also expected to be at the Maple Place entrance to the lot but was not there, according to LaPointe. A phone message requesting comment left at the fire department was not returned.

Schafer said the problem will be discussed during a scheduled meeting of all of the interested parties, which took place during the afternoon July 19.

Michael Cherry, a Mount Sinai resident, was the first customer of the service just after 4 p.m. July 14.

“Anywhere that has a lot of people you’re going to have that issue [of not being able to always find a convenient parking spot],” he said, though he added he frequently visits the village to patronize the restaurants, and parking has never deterred him from coming. “We were going to come down here no matter what so it doesn’t even matter.”

LaPointe said he hoped in coming weeks employees at the restaurants would push the service to customers while taking reservations to try and boost usage numbers.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village. This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

— Roger Rutherford

The service is functioning pursuant to a contract between the BID and the school district. The lot on Maple Place across the street from the fire department is used as a staging area. Cars are dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service costs drivers $7. The program is available during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays noon to 11 p.m.

Valets take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers do not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads, which were discussed as possible routes during the June board meeting, according to Garant. Excess traffic on residential streets received strong pushback from members of the community.

The program is cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village.

Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate, was present for the kick off of the service July 14.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village,” he said. “This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”