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Rocky Point Fire Department

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.”

Kirk Johnson discusses authorizing the fee for an engineering survey of Rocky Point Fire District's North Beach Company 2 firehouse, to get the building reconfigured. Photo by Kevin Redding

It will eventually be out with the old and in with a new firehouse in Rocky Point.

The Rocky Point Fire District set in motion June 7 a long-term project that will replace its decades-old North Beach Company 2 firehouse, at 90 King Road, with a new, updated one that will better meet the needs of the modern firefighter.

According to District Vice Chairman Kirk Johnson, the proposed building project will   not expand on the current firehouse’s footprint but reconfigure its floorplan.

Rocky Point Fire District commissioners authorized a fee for an engineering survey of the North Beach Company 2 firehouse, to get the building reconfigured. Photo by Kevin Redding

Major, out-of-date, infrastructure — including heating systems — will be replaced, and accommodations will be made for safety requirements, larger equipment and apparatus needs, and mandatory handicap-accessibility — none of which were factors when the firehouse was built in the 1950s.

“This enables us to continue the service we’re already providing well into the future,” Johnson said. “It’s just a more modern, environmentally-conscious building that will be able to run over the next 20, 30 years. And overall safety to our members is one of our main focuses with the new building.”

Johnson, joined by district commissioners Anthony Gallino, David Brewer and Gene Buchner, met at the administrative office in Shoreham and unanimously voted to approve a State Environmental Quality Review Act expenditure of $2,500, a required fee in the preliminary planning of any privately or publicly sponsored action in New York, with a considerable focus on the environmental impacts of a project.

The funds will go to Nelson & Pope, a Melville-based engineering and surveying firm, whose associates will help with planning, designing and completing the projects on-schedule and within budget.

By authorizing the fee, the district’s first step in the process, it propels the necessary studies to get the project off the ground. No budgets have yet been drafted.

Rocky Point Fire District commissioners Gene Buchner, David Brewer, Kirk Johnson and Anthony Gallino during a recent fire district meeting to set a plan in motion to renovate Rocky Point’s North Beach Company 2 firehouse on Kings Road. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We’re at the mercy of certain phases which are out of our control, but we’d like to get it moving as expeditiously as possible,” Johnson said.

Renovations to the building have long been discussed by members of the Rocky Point district — with more than 2,000 calls a year in the department, split between EMS and fire calls, and equipment upgrades and training requirements increasing on a regular basis due to mandatory standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, the firehouse’s physical restrictions have become more obvious.

“With the age of this building, a lot of equipment is currently outgrowing current structures,” Gallino said. “Thirty years ago there was plenty of room, but now, trucks have had to get bigger, equipment needs have gotten bigger and firefighters literally can’t change their clothes.”

He added firemen are currently changing between a steel pillar and a fire struck that’s about to start rolling, and doorways to get through to the different rooms are only 10-feet high.

“Back in the day, the apparatuses were smaller and now we’re limited on what we can do to raise those doors,” Gallino said. “Some of the advanced firefighting apparatuses we’ve been looking at will be difficult to get into the building … it just needs to be replaced.”

File photo.

Suffolk County Police arrested a man for driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs after he was rescued from his burning vehicle in Rocky Point April 12.

Corey Tierney was driving a 2003 Hyundai Sonata northbound on County Road 21, about one mile south of Route 25A, when he lost control of his vehicle, which crashed into a wooded area and caught fire. Passing motorists, Claudio Gil and Margaret Ward, pulled an unconscious Tierney from the vehicle.

Rocky Point Fire Department Rescue responded and administered Narcan to Tierney, 21, of Mount Sinai, who regained consciousness and was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries and charged with driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs.

Gil, 30, of Mount Sinai, and Ward, 51, of Rocky Point, were not injured.

Carol Hawat will continue to serve the Miller Place Fire District. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place residents voted against change Dec. 13 when they took to the fire district and cast their vote in the commissioner race.

Carol Hawat, who has served in her position since 2001 on the board of fire commissioners, won her fourth five-year term with 242 votes against her challenger Guy Schneider, a lifelong firefighter in the community, who received 71 votes, according to Miller Place Fire District. This is the second time Hawat beat out Schneider, who ran against the incumbent in 2011. Schneider could not be reached for comment.

A full-time EMT supervisor at the Rocky Point Fire Department, Hawat has been an advocate for bringing more ambulatory services to the Miller Place community since she was first elected to the position.

Carol Hawat has been voted to serve Miller Place Fire District for a fourth consecutive five-year term. File photo from Carol Hawat

Her extensive background in the EMS field has been a much-needed skill set, with 60 percent of the district’s total calls requiring urgent medical care, whether for those involved in motor vehicle accidents or in-home injuries, among others.

Hawat said she hoped to continue serving as commissioner because she considers herself the voice for the medical portion of the community. She said providing people with good quality care has been a lifelong passion.

“I feel like I make a difference,” she said. “I was raised to not walk by somebody who needs help … [I] help whoever needs it. … When I go on calls to a person’s house, they’re at their worst, they’re in pain, they’re worried, they’re scared … and to be able to help them, provide a friendly face and comfort and get them through that and bring them treatment, is very rewarding.”

Under Hawat’s leadership, the district provides top-of-the-line medical equipment, such as blood-pressure monitors, and 24/7 advanced life-support care — lifesaving protocols that extend support for its patients until hospital medical treatment is available. She said she’s helped supply whatever has been needed in the district, from new ambulances to fire trucks.

Rocky Point District Manager Edwin Brooks, who has known Hawat for many years as EMT supervisor, said it’s clear she’s the right person for the position.

“She’s very conscientious, very dedicated to her job, she’s hardworking and she cares,” he said. “Obviously she won by almost a 3-1 margin, so she must be doing her job. She’s been commissioner for quite a while.”

Josh Hagermann, Miller Place department chief, said Hawat is good for the community.

“I think she’ll [continue to] do well at the job she was elected for, and she’ll be helpful to the community,” he said. “She’s a very likable person.”

Hawat holds numerous CPR seminars at local schools and community centers to provide more education and awareness on what to do in emergency situations, and moving forward, she aims to do something similar to help stop the frequency of heroin overdoses in the area.

“I’m looking to be able to do classes on my own and go out there and provide more awareness of the drugs, educate people on how to know if someone is involved and provide Narcan [an opiate antidote] training at schools,” she said. “We have Narcan in the ambulance already.”

Her new five-year term begins Jan. 1, and will run through Dec. 31, 2021.

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Miller Place Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 5 Ariel Court in Rocky Point. Photo from Miller Place Fire Department

Miller Place Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 5 Ariel Court in Rocky Point to assist Rocky Point Fire Department early on the morning of Dec. 12.

Responders, in conjunction with Rocky Point Fire Department, helped extinguish the flames. Photo from Miller Place Fire Department
Responders, in conjunction with Rocky Point Fire Department, helped extinguish the flames. Photo from Miller Place Fire Department

A fire destroyed the home of the Sanvitale family, who, with their dogs Tilda and Lucky, were unharmed.

A Go Fund Me page was created for the family, to support them after losing their home amidst the holiday season.

The Go Fund Me page was created by David Mathias, and, in one day since it was created, has been shared 228 times and raised $3,125, as of press time, with the help of 56 donations. The target goal is $5,000.

With the donations, some messages were left from members of the community. Richard and Samantha Rishkel wrote “If you need anything, let us know.” Kate Graf added a message, “Sending love and positive energy from Florida,” and Ashley Haskell said, “Sending healing energy.”

To make a contribution, visit www.gofundme.com/sanvitale-house-fire-support-fund.

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