Erland was firefighter, commissioner, trustee
Joe Erland, a lifelong Port Jefferson resident and longtime member of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, died on Thursday. He was 55 years old.
Erland dedicated much of his time to serving the Port Jefferson community through both the fire department and the local government. He was a fire commissioner since 1992 and once served the village as a trustee and deputy mayor.
“He was the quintessential local kid,” said Fred Bryant, one of Erland’s longtime friends and the best man at his wedding. “He was a nice person — ‘Mr. Port Jefferson,’ as we like to call him.”
According to Steve Erland, 29, the late Erland’s oldest child, his father died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and rapidly progressive disease that affects mental function. He had been diagnosed less than a month ago.
For 37 years, Joe Erland worked as a Long Island Rail Road engineer. He retired from the job to care for his wife Patricia, who passed away from cancer less than four years ago.
Patricia had worked for the railroad as well and the couple married in 1979. They also have two daughters: Michelle, 29, and Andrea, 23.
Born on Oct. 19, 1956, Joe Erland was part of a family who had lived in the Port Jefferson area since the early 1800s. Keeping with the family tradition, Erland, whose grandfather worked as a dispatcher, began volunteering with the Port Jefferson Fire Department 38 years ago. He went on to start the Junior Company and became its first captain.
“He was always a kindhearted gentleman that you could always speak to,” PJFD First Assistant Chief Dave Williams said. “He was very well-liked by all of the members.”
Erland had been made an honorary chief of the fire department two weeks ago, Williams said.
Harold Tranchon, chairman of the board at the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said that Erland was knowledgeable and a great asset to the fire department.
Port Jefferson Chief Constable Wally Tomaszewski recalled Erland’s bravery surpassing his duties with the PJFD. The code chief said Erland saved his life after a man in the village attacked him with a sword in the late 1970s. Tomaszewski called Erland “the pillar of the community.”
As a village trustee, Erland ran for mayor in 2009 against Mayor Margot Garant. While he was disappointed that he lost the election, Bryant said, he was tremendously gracious in his defeat.
“I consider Joe to be a Port Jefferson hero,” Garant said. “I just think he really brought the community together. We need a lot more [of] him around, that’s for sure.”
Steve Erland said his father was humble about his achievements, rarely talking about himself, and had a passion for everything he did.
In his spare time, Joe Erland enjoyed playing softball, golfing and camping. For many years, Erland even danced in Harbor Ballet Theater’s annual Nutcracker performance, in which he played the father, his son said.
Even in the face of adversity, Bryant said the elder Erland always handled things with grace.
“You felt that he was at peace with it,” Bryant said. “He was still that wonderful guy right through the end.”