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Setauket Fire Department

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Firefighters battle a fire at Brookhaven Cat Hospital Oct. 7. Photo by Dennis Whittam

By Bob O’Rourk

The Setauket Fire Department tackled a challenging rescue Oct. 5, and just two days later, fought a significant fire during the evening of Oct. 7.

Setauket firefighters rescue a driver from a dump truck that crashed into a large tree on Pond Path. Photo by Bob O’Rourk

On Oct. 5 at 2:08 p.m., the department was called to rescue the driver of a dump truck that crashed into a large tree on Pond Path near Robert Crescent in Setauket, crushing the side of the driver compartment and pinning the motorist under the dash. Both of the fire department’s heavy rescue crews combined to finally release the victim after an hour of work to free his legs from the steering column and dashboard, which had collapsed into him.

With the truck lodged firmly against a 12-inch diameter tree, and the driver’s legs pinned, medical attention was given while he was in the cab and continued until he was freed. He was alert throughout most of the hour he was pinned in the truck.

The truck and driver were part of a crew of contractors, operating for PSEG, who were clearing the power lines along a private driveway that extends from Pond Path for more than 300 feet. The newly paved driveway has some sharp falloffs in several areas. One of those drop-offs apparently caused the truck to veer into two robust trees.

The fire department responded with two heavy rescue trucks and a pumper as well as numerous medical personnel and an ambulance. During the time the driver was pinned, he received a number of injections to relieve pain. Once he was freed, he was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for further medical care.

Suffolk County Police Department Emergency Service also responded and aided with hydraulic tools to supplement those used by Setauket Fire Department personnel.

Firefighters battle a fire at Brookhaven Cat Hospital Oct. 7. Photo by Dennis Whittam

On Oct. 7 at 7:28 p.m., the department was called to a fire at the Brookhaven Cat Hospital at 60 Route 25A in Setauket. The fire was significant and inside a building with many rooms. Two other businesses also occupied the building.

The fire was reported via an automatic alarm. The first responders noticed significant smoke coming from the building and called in the signal for an actual fire which evoked mutual aid from Stony Brook, Port Jefferson, Centereach, Terryville, St James and Selden fire departments, as well as Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Nesconset and Port Jefferson ambulances.

Heavy fire was encountered upon entry to the building. It took firefighters more than two hours to bring the fire under control. There was significant damage to the roof as well as the interior spaces. The SCPD Arson Squad and Town of Brookhaven fire marshal were called to determine the cause, which at this point is still under investigation.

The fire was contained to the cat hospital areas in the building. According to the business owner, three cats were inside. Two were found deceased, and the third one is unaccounted for at this time. One firefighter suffered a minor injury from heat exhaustion and was transported to a local hospital.

On Aug. 23, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook hosted a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament with local fire departments, including Setauket, Centereach and Selden, competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems,” which are personal escape kits, for fire departments in need all over the country.

The winners of the $1,000 prize money were members of New York City Fire Department’s Watkins Station Engine 231/Ladder 120 — Darren Fenton, Patrick Tulley, Connor Norman and Anthony Edrehi. The tournament winners and John-Paul Sabbagh, from the Terryville Fire Department who won the event’s 50/50 raffle, donated their winnings back to the foundation.

The event cost $20 to enter, and the tournament was judged by John Tsunis, owner of the hotel; Joe DiBernardo Sr.; and Leah Dunaief, publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media. Dan Keller from Stony Brook University’s athletics department served as referee.

Tsunis said the hotel hopes to make the tournament an annual event, adding, “It was a lot of fun to have all the firefighters there and all the community members we recruited to play.”

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Volunteers with the Setauket Fire Department respond to a fire in Poquott Aug. 16. Photo by Bob O'Rourk

The Setauket Fire Department was called to a two-story home on Singingwood Lane in the Village of Poquott at 10:31 p.m Aug. 16, according to Setauket Fired Department public information officer Bob O’Rourk.

Half of the rear deck was fully involved and almost spread to the inside of the house, O’Rourk said. Quick action by the fire department kept flames from getting past several rafters and inside of the structure. As a result, any serious damage inside was prevented.

Firefighters checked the deck roof as well as the house roof for any fire extension. Interior walls were also checked to ascertain that no fire damage reached the interior.

The Stony Brook and Terryville fire departments also responded for mutual aid. Town of Brookhaven fire marshals were on scene to determine the cause of the fire. Results of that investigation are pending.

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An Aug. 23 volleyball tournament will help raise funds to buy bailout systems for firefighters through the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. DiBernardo, right, is pictured with his father Joseph DiBernardo Sr., left. File photo

Local firefighters are training to serve up some fun and to help members of firehouses around the country.

On Aug. 23, a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament will be held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook with fire departments competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems” for fire departments who lack the vital equipment. The personal escape kits are used when rescue workers find themselves in fires that are difficult to escape, like when they are a few floors up, a building collapses or there is a backdraft.

Joseph DiBernardo after recovering from shattering both his feet and breaking bones below his waist. File photo

Tanya Lee, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said she came up with the idea for the fundraiser when DiBernardo’s father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., stopped by the hotel to book a workshop. Lee, who is a volunteer with the Centereach Fire Department along with her son, said she was looking for a way the hotel could give back to the community and saw DiBernardo’s visit as a sign. She said she discovered while talking to him that many fire departments in the country don’t have the funds to pay for bailout systems and the training required to use them, which together can cost up to $1,000 per firefighter depending on the manufacturer.

“It was kind of like that ‘Aha’ moment,” Lee said. “Like he walked right in when I was looking to do something for the community.”

DiBernardo Jr., who was a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, was one of three New York City Fire Department firefighters injured during a tenement fire in the Bronx in 2005. Three firefighters also died in the blaze, and the tragedy was called “Black Sunday.” During the fire, DiBernardo Jr. helped his fellow firefighter Jeff Cool escape the building using a rope and then secured it to a child safety guard to lower himself from a window. The rope broke, and DiBernardo Jr. fell four stories, breaking practically every bone from his waist down and shattering both feet. During his recovery in the hospital, he suffered respiratory arrest and
developed pneumonia. While DiBernardo retired as a firefighter due to his injuries, he traveled the country and assisted in safety trainings for firefighters despite the physical pain he continued to suffer, according to his father. In 2011, the firefighter died from the injuries he sustained in the 2005 Bronx fire. In 2013, the DiBernardo family, members of the Setauket Fire Department and Cool established the foundation.

“We decided to [start] the foundation, so no other firefighter would have to die due to lack of personal safety ropes,” DiBernardo Sr. said.

Lee said the 4-on-4 tournament will consist of eight teams that will compete in a 15-point game until one team is left standing. For teams that are eliminated earlier in the tournament and for spectators, there will be a Cornhole toss, raffles, food and beverages. Attendees who stay overnight at the hotel will also receive a discount on their room.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers,” Lee said.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers.”

— Tanya Lee

So far there are five teams consisting of firefighters set to participate — FDNY, Hicksville, Jericho, Selden and Centereach. Kevin Yoos, fire commissioner with the Setauket Fire District and vice president of the foundation, said volunteers in Setauket are currently organizing a team. Lee said there will also be a team consisting of Gold Coast Bank employees.

The tournament was one that John Tsunis, the owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said he was on board from the moment he heard about it. The hotel donated $1,000 to the tournament, and it will be awarded to the winning team, according to the hotel owner. Tsunis, who is also CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said he believes in giving back to the community the hotel serves.

“We’re not big hotels in Las Vegas or international banks in New York City,” Tsunis said. “We’re neighbors and friends, and we work together, and we live together.”

DiBernardo Sr., who is a retired FDNY firefighter, said his son wanted to fight fires since he was a kid. He would play with fire trucks as a child, and when he was a bit older, would visit his father at work at his station house in Brooklyn.

When he was 18, DiBernardo Jr. became a fire alarm dispatcher on Long Island, and the next year he became a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, according to his father. During his tenure with the department, he became a lieutenant and captain. In 1993, DiBernardo Jr. became an FDNY fire alarm dispatcher, and in 1995, his dream of becoming a firefighter in the city was achieved.

“That’s what he always wanted,” the father said. “It’s nice to see your son achieve his dreams.”

The father said he was touched when he heard about the volleyball tournament and the $1,000 donation.

“Someone would care in the community to do something for us like that … it’s fantastic,” he said.

The Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook is located at 3131 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook. Entry donation is $20 for players and spectators and includes food and beverages. For more details about the event, contact Tanya Lee at 631-471-8000. Or visit www.facebook.com/HIExpressSB/ for a link to sign up. For more information on the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, visit www.joeydfoundation.org.

Ex-Chief John Evans, a 62-year member of the Setauket Fire Department, died July 28 and was buried with honors in the St. James R.C. Church Cemetery in Setauket Aug. 2. Firematic Services were held at Bryant Funeral Home Aug. 1.

Evans was born Oct. 31, 1934, in Mather Hospital. He graduated Port Jefferson High School in 1952. His studies in college were followed with a position with Suffolk County as a civil engineer. He retired after 36 years in 1991.

He married Betty in 1957 and recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. They have three children, Sharon Pifko, Tim Evans and Kathy Mays. He is also survived by his two grandchildren Hailey and Sean Mays and a sister Sandra Kratina of Miller Place.

Evans joined the Setauket Fire Department when he was 18 years old and was chief of the department from 1964 through 1965. He was also an assistant chief for six years prior. After serving 61 years, 11 months and 4 days, he became a Life member of SFD, and in his final years, he was a member of the Fire Police.

In his years of active firefighting, Evans shared his great knowledge of hydraulics and pumping with many of the younger firefighters as they learned all the nuances of the department pumpers. He will be missed.

A fire destroyed a barn on Ada Lane in Setauket June 19. Photo by Dennis Whittam

An early morning fire left a Setauket barn destroyed Monday, June 19. The barn, which was more than 300 years old, was located on the property that once belonged to a family with deep roots in the village.

At 4:33 a.m. the Setauket Fire Department responded to the scene at Ada Lane off Route 25A in Setauket. Larry Hall, the department’s public information officer, said firefighters on the scene encountered a fully involved fire of the 30-by-30-foot structure that was used for storage.

In addition to the Setauket Fire Department, the Port Jefferson, Stony Brook and Terryville fire departments were also on the scene to assist in distinguishing the fire, which burned for approximately two and a half hours. The Selden Fire Department and the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps were on standby at the Setauket headquarters.

A fire destroyed a barn on Ada Lane in Setauket June 19. Photo by Dennis Whittam

Hall said one of the main concerns was a neighbor’s house, which is situated approximately 40 feet from the barn, because plastic on the home was beginning to melt. However, the fire did not spread to adjacent properties.

According to Brookhaven town historian Barbara Russell, the barn is on the same property of the home known as the Micah Jayne House in the Three Village area. The land belonged to the Jayne family for generations. The family can trace its roots back to one of the first settlers in Setauket, William Jayne, a native of Bristol, England, who immigrated to the United States in the 17th century. The property was also the site of the Lade Brae nursery for years.

Russell said 20 years ago she toured the barn with an architect historian who said the barn appeared as if it was built between 1680 and 1720, and he called it a unique structure. One of the distinguishing features of the barn was hand-hewn braces.

“It had elements of both Dutch barn construction and English barn construction,” Russell said.

The historian said while the structure of the barn remained the same through the centuries, a previous owner approximately 20 years ago re-shingled the roof and added board-and-batten siding.

No firefighters were injured while fighting the fire. The Suffolk County arson squad and Town of Brookhaven fire marshal have been notified for further investigation, and the town will demolish the remnants of the barn.

Russell said she feels sorry for the family that currently owns the property as well as the local community.

“We have lost a piece of our very early history and, unfortunately, it’s not replaceable,” Russell said.

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Firefighters tackle the blaze at St. George’s Golf Course. Photo by Dennis Whittam

Paul Rodier, the first assistant chief of the Setauket Fire Department, responded to the scene of a car accident Jan. 3 at St. George’s Golf Club on Lower Sheep Pasture Road in Setauket. What he found on arrival was much more than that.

“The original call stated ‘car accident,’” Rodier said. “A minute and a half later ‘car into building.’ Then, ‘car into building on fire’ and finally, ‘possibly a person trapped in the car.’”

According to Suffolk County police, 19-year-old Alyssa Chaikin lost control of her 2003 Jeep Liberty on wet pavement at about 5:40 p.m. She struck a wooden guardrail, went through a chain-link fence and down an embankment. The car crashed into a building on the golf course. The Jeep caught fire and the fire spread to the building, which houses a bathroom and is used for selling refreshments, and was destroyed.

Chaikin was able to crawl out of the vehicle and was assisted by another driver, Richard Glaser, who quickly ushered her away from the blaze to his vehicle, parked on the side of the road.    

Upon his arrival at the scene, Rodier said the car and a third of the building were engulfed, and traffic was heavy on Sheep Pasture Road. An electric pole was also involved and may have been the cause of the fire.

“That female is very lucky to be alive. The call went from bad to worse. Thankfully, it ended well. That’s our main goal.”

— Paul Rodier

Rodier said he found a first responder and a medic with the ambulance. He was directed to the young woman, seated in the passenger seat of the good Samaritan’s car, where he assessed her condition. Finding her breathing, able to communicate and not requiring emergency measures at the scene, Chaikin, of Stony Brook, was transferred to the ambulance, and Rodier turned his attention to orchestrating the fire response.

Glaser, a manager of information technology at Stony Brook University Hospital, said he was driving by and pulled over to try to help. He said he did not see the accident happen.

“It feels really good that I was able to pay it forward and help someone out,” he said in an email. “I just hope that more people do the same when the opportunity happens.”

Stony Brook University Hospital was contacted to confirm if Chaiken was still a patient on Jan. 10, but no further information was available. Her parents could not be reached for comment.

Rodier said an investigation was ongoing to determine the cause of the accident and that he hoped news of the accident would cause other drivers to concentrate more on their driving and try harder to avoid distractions.

“This was a wake-up call to pay attention to your driving,” Rodier said. “We don’t know all the details. It should not have happened. That female is very lucky to be alive. The call went from bad to worse. Thankfully, it ended well. That’s our main goal.”

John Cunniffe in his Stony Brook Avenue office. Photo by Donna Newman

To John Cunniffe, a person who lacks a knowledge of history is like a tree without roots.

So to make sure the history of the Three Village community is alive and vibrant, he’s spent the last decade offering his considerable architectural acuity to various organizations dedicated to doing just that.

Cunniffe sees the value in preserving heritage. He pays attention to the smallest of details, striving for historical accuracy while providing renovations that work in today’s world.

“There are many professionals in our community who give generously of their services to our local nonprofit organizations, often pro bono or for reduced fees, but none quite like John Cunniffe,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “He has helped jump-start and advance more important historic building projects throughout the Three Villages than I can count.”   

For his considerable contributions to the work being done by courageous nonprofits in preserving local historical edifices, for his unflagging willingness to lend his expertise to important local architecture projects and for his extreme generosity of time and spirit, John Cunniffe is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“When someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

— David Sterne

Raised on Long Island, the 45-year-old Stony Brook resident received his architectural degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He has worked for the Weiss/Manfredi firm where he honed his design pedigree.

The Cunniffes decided to return to Long Island from Virginia 10 years ago and settled not far from the Soundview area of East Setauket, from which his wife Colleen Cunniffe hails. There they are raising their two daughters.

Now known for prestigious residential projects that value historic preservation, while creating contemporary architecture for his clients, he has also become the go-to architect for important restoration and preservation projects throughout the Three Village area, Reuter said.

Cunniffe donated his services to create the documents and secure the permits necessary to relocate and restore the historic Rubber Factory Worker Houses for the Three Village Community Trust. Soon he was handling work for the Setauket Neighborhood House, the Three Village Historical Society, the Frank Melville Memorial Park, The Long Island Museum, projects in the Bethel–Christian Avenue–Laurel Hill Historic District as well as the Caroline Church, Reuter added.

“They all needed an architect,” Reuter said. “They got more than they asked for — they got thorough project planning and exceptionally good design, as well as the necessary documents and permits.”

Along the way, Cunniffe represented the Stony Brook Historic District as a volunteer on the Town of Brookhaven’s Historic District Advisory Committee and advised the Setauket Fire Department on planning and design for the new headquarters building on Route 25A in Setauket.

Setauket Fire District Manager David Sterne said he feels grateful to have had Cunniffe’s participation in the planning for the new fire department structure.

“John was an integral part of the community committee for the planning and design of the new firehouse,” he said. “He attended most meetings and his insights, especially from his architect’s point of view, were invaluable. It’s one thing for a person to take part as a volunteer, but when someone essentially does ‘pro-bono’ work in their area of expertise — that made John’s involvement just that much more selfless.”

Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell remembers where and when she first encountered Cunniffe. 

John Cunniffe constructed plans for the new Setauket Fire Department Headquarters on Route 25A in Setauket. Phto by Desirée Keegan

“I first met John when he was the representative from the Stony Brook Historic District to the Town’s Historic District Advisory Committee,” she said. “He always brought sound knowledge of architecture, a willingness to hear out the applicants and helpful suggestions to the meetings. Beyond his education in architecture, he has a sense of the importance of historical structures and how they fit into our community today.”

Russell said it is unique how Cunnife considers style, materials, location and history of a structure as well as how it has to conform to fit in today’s world.

“Whether it be its location in the community or the owner’s lifestyle, balancing all those variables takes a keen eye, and a heart for the type of work he does,” she said.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the Three Village area is a special place because of people like Cunniffe.

“Our extraordinary community is defined by caring people like John Cunniffe, whose professional architectural vision and personal commitment to volunteerism is a gift that enhances our sense of place,” he said. “We are indeed fortunate that John has chosen to invest his considerable talent and energies here.”

Reuter compared the architect’s work to another famous designer who worked in the area: Ward Melville’s architect.

“Richard Haviland Smythe did these sorts of community projects for his patron who generously funded them,” he said. “John Cunniffe is our modern day Smythe — if only we had modern day major patrons to move these many projects forward. John has been a wise, good-humored and essential partner.”

Parade will begin on Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and elementary school

An electric float in 2014 carries parade participants. Photo from Cheryl Davie

After a one-year hiatus, a long-running holiday tradition is returning to Setauket.

It was ‘lights out’ for the Electric Holiday Parade last December, when a couple of glitches prevented the popular event from taking place. Cheryl Davie, longtime organizer of the event, which has been around for two decades, said there were budgetary cutbacks at the town level and a permit deadline was missed.

Billy Williams, a civic-minded local businessman and a member of the Setauket Fire Department, Three Village Kiwanis and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said he heard of the issues last November — just not soon enough.

“I remember moving to the area in the late ’90s and bringing my kids to the parade,” he said in an email. “I thought it was a great hometown experience. I was saddened when I heard it wasn’t happening last year.” But by the time he found out, he said, it was too late to make it happen. So he decided to pick up the pieces and planned to resurrect the parade this year.

Davie immediately offered her assistance and expertise and the two became a team. Williams joked he is the producer and Davie is the director. She’s in charge of “the script” and running the show. He’s responsible for making sure the funding comes through.

“I have put together a team of small businesses and individuals who wanted to produce a great parade,” Williams said. “We have about 20 sponsors that have generously donated to offset the cost of producing the parade. State Farm [Williams’ business], Shea & Sanders Real Estate, Four D Landscaping and Shine Dance Studios are the major sponsors — with many others contributing as well. Each has made donations of money, time and/or other needed goods and services for the event.”

Lights will blaze again when the parade kicks off Sunday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. There will be floats and marchers, lights and music, decorated conveyances of all kinds, entertainment, hot chocolate and cookies — not to mention the arrival of Santa Claus on the Setauket Fire Department float — according to Davie.

“We have a lot of floats signed up,” Williams said. “Thirty-five have registered so far. We are also hiring a professional marching band to perform as well as providing many other great attractions for the kids. We have Wolfie from Stony Brook University attending, as well as the SBU pep squad.”

Williams said the Three Village school district will also be well represented. Many of the elementary schools are building floats — at all grade levels — which is a change from previous years when only sixth-graders were invited to create floats. The Ward Melville Jazz Band will also perform.

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, dance academies, preschools and local businesses have registered online to participate in the parade of lights. Registration will remain open until Dec. 10.

“The more, the merrier,” said Davie, referring to participants and spectators alike.

No article about the Electric Holiday Parade would be complete without a shout out to one of the original founders and supporters. Michael Ardolino was a member of the small group that established the parade 21 years ago. Today he is very happy and proud.

“I’m so excited the parade is back,” Ardolino said in a telephone interview. “I’m so proud it’s going to continue. So pleased with the new group that has stepped up to create this year’s parade. I’m looking forward to coming and enjoying it with my granddaughter. The tradition continues.”

For more information about the parade — or if you’d like to sign up — visit www.3vholidayparade.com. Staging for the parade will begin at 3:30 p.m. along Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and the Setauket Elementary School. Kick-off is at 5 p.m. sharp.

The Setauket Fire Department Auxiliary will hold a Pancake Breakfast fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 8 a.m. to noon at the Setauket Fire Department, 9 Arrowhead Lane, East Setauket. Breakfast includes pancakes, bacon, sausage, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Themed baskets will be raffled off at $1 per ticket or 6 for $5. Grand raffle prize is a Weber Grill for $5 per ticket. Admission is $8 adults, $5 children ages 2 to 9, under 2 years free. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighter’s Burn Center. For more information, call Karen at 631-365-2518.

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