The heat is on at the Miller Place Fire District this month, as retired firefighter Guy Schneider challenges incumbent Carol Hawat in an upcoming commissioner vote.
Hawat, recognized in April as EMT of the year by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), has held her position as one of five on the Board of Fire Commissioners since 2001. As her third five-year term comes to a close, she said she hopes to continue serving as commissioner and bring to the job her experience as a full-time EMT supervisor at Rocky Point Fire Department — a perspective that’s proven to be especially beneficial in Miller Place as 60 percent of the emergency calls to the fire district require medical care. Motor vehicle accidents and home injuries make up most of the calls to which volunteers respond.
Having been born and raised on Long Island in a family of police officers, Hawat said that helping people and working for the community has always been part of her life.
In 2008, she helped initiate an Advanced Life Support program in the community, which has provided people with a set of life-saving protocols that extends support until a victim receives full medical treatment at a hospital. Hawat feels she’s made a difference by bringing EMS to the table at the district and takes pride in the fact that the budget has been handled well and taxes haven’t been raised in years.
“I just love what I do … I want to continue providing quality care and safety to the people of Miller Place,” Hawat said. “This is where my children were raised and grew up. I have strong ties here and I like helping others. I feel like I have a purpose … giving back to the community. It’s what I was raised to do.”
She also stressed her urgency to put a stop to the rise in heroin overdoses on the North Shore. She said while Narcan, the opiate antidote used to treat overdoses, is supplied in the ambulances, she hopes to provide more awareness and training to schools in the future.
Schneider has been in fire and rescue service for more than four decades, and at 64 years old he’s still responding and volunteering every day. He volunteered for 12 years as a firefighter at the Babylon Village Fire Department starting in 1970, served as a hull maintenance technician in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War between 1971 and 1975, and was at the Holtsville Fire Department briefly before working at FDNY Firehouse Engine 60 and Ladder 17 between 1984 and 2004.
He said he sustained some disabling breathing problems in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, and so he decided to slow down and move to Miller Place from Sound Beach. He’s been a volunteer at the Miller Place Fire Department ever since, mostly as “chauffeur,” driving the fire apparatus and getting the volunteers where they need to be.
He said what pulls him out of bed — sometimes at 3 a.m. to a call — is that he wants to help people.
“I’m still on the first engine to a fire,” Schneider said. “I’ve been to just about every fire in Miller Place since I’ve been here. Always first too. That’s me.”
Schneider ran against and lost to Hawat in 2011 but said he’s running for commissioner this year because “it’s time for a change.” He believes strict term limits should be implemented to commissioners because after a while complacency has a tendency to kick in.
“I want to try to get in there and spice things up,” Schneider said. “Right now we’re working with 27-year-old pumpers, which should’ve been taken out of service a long time ago. It’s gotten to the point where [the current commissioners] are holding on to all the old stuff, because they’ve been around for 15 or 20 years. We need someone with a little more finesse, to try to get in there and work things out.”
He said he has great respect for Hawat and considers her a great EMT but wants to be more active within the district.
“I love Carol, she’s great to work with, but it’s time to move on,” Schneider said.
Hawat said that she doesn’t understand why Schneider has run against her twice when there were two open spots on the five-person board in the previous five years for which he didn’t run.
“I feel like I’m more qualified because of my experience in what I do in the fire department and I’d like to continue doing that … it’s a service for the community,” Hawat said. “I know there’s equipment he feels the firemen aren’t getting and things like that, but it’s not true.”
Josh Hagermann, Miller Place department chief, had good things to say about each candidate.
“I think [Carol] has done a very good job … she’s fair, helpful and has made sure the community is getting the best care,” Hagermann said. “And Guy is very active and he’s a very reliable apparatus driver for us. He’s got a very good firefighting background as well. So, we have two good candidates running for one position.”
Community members can cast their votes Dec. 13 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Miller Place firehouse, located at 12 Miller Place Road.