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Huntington Fire Department

The sun came out from behind clouds to shine down on Huntington Fire Department’s volunteers as they celebrated the organization’s 175th anniversary July 28.

The event kicked off with a 4 p.m. parade that stepped off from Huntington Town Hall, headed west on Main Street before turning north onto Wall Street and ended at the Leverich Place firestation.  Huntington resident Henry Gerdes, 98, was selected as the parade’s grand marshal in honor of his 78 years of volunteer service to the fire department.  Numerous fire companies traveled in from as far away as Sheldon, Connecticut to march with their trucks draped in banners announcing their congratulations to Huntington on their 175th anniversary.

After the parade, Huntington residents and community were invited to a free festival behind the firehouse featuring free refreshment, live entertainment, carnival games, inflatable rides for children late into the evening.

Combating fires in Huntington has progressed a long way from the use of leather buckets and wooden ladders over the last 175 years.

The Huntington Fire Department will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of its volunteer fire company’s formation July 28 with a parade kicking off at 4 p.m. from town hall to its Leverich Place station. The department’s oldest active living member, Henry Gerdes, has been selected as the parade’s grand marshal.

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department,” he said, since its founding in 1843. “You have to grow with them.”

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department.”
– Henry Gerdes

Gerdes, 98, has volunteered his time to help the Huntington Fire Department since he was a boy working in his family-run ice cream and candy shop on Main Street. He recalled pouring cups of coffee for volunteer firemen heading on their way to work only to learn they couldn’t always hear the firehouse’s siren.

“If the wind blew the wrong way, they couldn’t hear it,” said Gerdes, who worked down the street from the Main Street station. “I would have to call them up, having to use a nickel at my payphone.”

He alerted volunteers of fires using payphone No. 28 in his family’s shop. After a few months, the process improved when telephone operators learned of what he was doing and stepped in to help direct firefighters directly to the site of the fire to meet the trucks there.

Gerdes officially joined the Huntington Fire Department in December 1939 and upon returning from serving during World War II he rose to the rank of captain. The 1950s and 60s were a busy time for the firehouse, he said, as the town was rapidly expanding and changing.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat.”
– Henry Gerdes

“Daytime fires would be brush fires or nothing,” Gerdes said. “But come night or the winter, everyone had coal stoves and fireplaces. There were a lot of chimney fires.”

In 1959, the fire station was relocated from Main Street to its current spot on Leverich Place.

“There used to be no traffic to worry about,” Gerdes said. “They had to move the Main Street firehouse because it was impossible to get to with trucks and cars.”

Firefighting methods and the department’s equipment have drastically improved since the early 1900s, according to Gerdes, who emphasized that while the department purchased top-of-the-line trucks the volunteer’s safety was treated very differently.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat,” he said. “The first one on the truck gets first selection.”

While Huntington’s Main Street and New York Avenue business district had fire hydrants installed in the late 1800s, Gerdes said firefighters often had to go looking for a wrench to open it up. For residential fires, volunteers had to locate the nearest well or pond to drain water to extinguish the flames.

“When I first joined, they didn’t have 50 fires a year,” he said. “Now, they have more than 600.”

“Recruitment is a constant issue. We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.
– Henry Gerdes

In 2017, Huntington Fire Department volunteers responded to 655 calls including emergencies, car crashes, fires and automated alarms with October being the busiest month. The department has grown to consist of three companies: The engine, hose, and hook and ladder units.

One thing that’s remained unchanged over the years, according to Gerdes, has been the need to ensure there are enough active volunteer firefighters, and now, first responders, to ensure residents’ safety.

“Recruitment is a constant issue,” he said. “We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.”

The lifelong firefighter warned that it’s not all “fun and games” but a work that requires significant training and irregular hours, including late nights and holidays. Yet, he has taken pride in serving the department and being part of its history.

“The fire department I belong to is the best,” Gerdes said. “They do a good job, they work hard, and they do the right thing. I’m very proud of them and anything I did to help them along the way.”

Residents are invited to join the firefighters in their 175th anniversary gala celebration from 5 to 11 p.m. following the parade at the Leverich Place fire station featuring complimentary bounce houses and slides for kids, pony rides, a dunk tank and other carnival-like activities. Entertainment will be provided by the Little Wilson Band and free refreshments will be served.

JoS A. Bank shop remains closed as of 1 p.m. May 7.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A car crashed through the wall of a Huntington Village shop Saturday afternoon, sending shoppers scrambling for cover.

Suffolk County police and Huntington Fire Department volunteers responded to reports of a vehicle careening into the side of JoS. A. Bank clothing store, on the corner of Main Street and Stewart Avenue, May 5 at approximately 4 p.m, according to fire department spokesman Steve Silverman. Police said an elderly woman driving a 1999 Subaru, traveling westbound on Main Street, had attempted to make a right turn onto Stewart Avenue when she lost control of the vehicle.

The driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was transported via Huntington Community First Aid Squad to Huntington Hospital for treatment, according to Silverman. There were six individuals inside the store at the time of the accident who escaped uninjured.

The Town of Huntington Building Department was notified of the crash and sent to check the building for structural damage.

Tom Laurice, manager for the Huntington JoS. A. Bank location, said the store was closed May 6 and remained closed as of 1 p.m. May 7 as the building’s structural integrity still needed to be evaluated by a Huntington Town building inspector.  Laurice said he hopes to reopen for business following whatever repairs are deemed necessary this week.

Huntington Manor Fire Department members unveil the new sign at the entrance of the newly-named Depot Road Richard W. Holst Memorial Park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Eight years after the tragic death of a Huntington Manor firefighter, a town park has been renamed to honor his service to the community.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and the town board announced Depot Road Park is now officially Richard W. Holst Memorial Park, renamed after the late fire police captain, chaplain, and posthumous honorary chief of Huntington Manor Fire Department.

“It is our honor to rededicate this park in his name for his heroic efforts and his giving to this community, continuously,” Petrone said.

Noreen Holst, Huntington Town Board members and Huntington Manor Fire Department members unveil a memorial plaque dedicated to Richard W. Holst. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Holst, a U.S. Navy veteran, joined the Huntington Manor fire department in 1978. He served for 31 years, spending 26 of those as the department’s chaplain and captain of the fire police. Prior to his death, Holst was elected chief chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains in 2008. His fellow firefighters affectionately called him, “the Rev.”

“As chaplain, Rich spent countless hours looking after, comforting and at times consoling members and families of the Huntington Manor Fire Department,” said Jon Hoffman, first assistant chief of Huntington Manor Fire Department. “Today, we dedicate this stone and plaque in honor of Richie. It will stay here for years and watch over the people in this park as Richie did for us for so many years.”

In the early morning of Sept. 9, 2009, Holst was walking to 7-Eleven on Depot Road when he saw smoke rising from the adjacent shopping center. He reported the fire and immediately went to the scene to begin evacuation of the stores and checking for possible trapped occupants. Shortly after firefighters arrived, Holst suffered a heart attack and died.

The fire was determined to have started in Uber Cafe, a bagel shop, and police later ruled the incident arson, Petrone said. One of the shop’s owners pled guilty to attempted arson, the second owner was later convicted of arson.

Depot Road Park in Huntington was renamed for former Huntington Manor Fire Department member Richard W. Holst.

The newly renamed Huntington Station park off East 20th Street is only a few hundred feet from the site of the fatal fire. It features a playground and Little League baseball fields. 

“Depot Road Park is a special place, it’s a hidden gem in our park system,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “I think like many of you firefighters who knew Chief Holst, he was a hidden gem in our community. He was someone who was there to serve, dedicated his life to service in the [U.S.] Navy and in the fire department, then the important role of chaplain. So much of his time was dedicated to others.”

In addition to the park’s new signage, a large stone was unveiled bearing a memorial plaque with Holt’s image, notes about his accomplishments and details about his death. Deacon Edward Billia from St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church said a blessing over both the sign and memorial stone.

Noreen Holst appeared deeply touched by the tribute paid to her late husband. While she declined to speak publicly, she clutched a tissue in hand while Huntington Manor Assistant Chief Chuck Brady thanked all those who attended Saturday’s ceremony on behalf of the family. 

Huntington Manor Fire Commissioner Chris Fusaro encouraged the young members of the organization to take a long look around at those gathered and ask to hear personal stories about Holst’s exemplary life. 

“For all you who don’t know what firefighters do, it’s day and night, holidays and weekends when you get up from the table, get out of bed to go and respond,” Fusaro said. “Rich did that. He did it willingly and always from his heart.”

Huntington Manor firefighters salute their former colleague. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Firefighters work to stop the flames. Photo from Huntington Fire Department
Firefighters work to stop the flames. Photo from Huntington Fire Department
Firefighters work to stop the flames. Photo from Huntington Fire Department

Firemen fought to put out flames at a house fire during a heavy thunderstorm this past Monday, July 25.

Huntington Fire Department volunteers were alerted to a fire on Prime Avenue in Huntington at about 4:30 p.m. Firefighters arrived to an active fire in the attic of a two-story home opposite Heckscher Park.

Crews from the Halesite, Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor fire departments quickly knocked down the blaze and overhauled the exterior and second floor ceilings to check for extension of the fire.

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad responded with an ambulance crew. About 60 firefighters and EMS personnel worked together with nine fire trucks under the command of Second Deputy Chief Brian Keane, with operations handled by Third Deputy Chief Scott Dodge.

There were no injuries reported, and the cause of the fire is under investigation by the Suffolk Police Arson Squad and the Huntington fire marshal.

Incident shut down part of Main Street on Friday afternoon

Firefighters exit Renarts, where there was a heavy smoke condition on the second floor on Friday afternoon. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The Huntington Fire Department responded to a call of heavy smoke at Renarts that shut down a part of Main Street on Friday afternoon.

An employee of the shoe store near Wall Street called the fire department at about 12:45 p.m. after going upstairs to grab a pair of shoes for a customer and discovering smoke on the second floor. There was a little bit of smoke in the first room and a lot of smoke in the second room, he recalled at the scene on Friday.

“I was coughing a lot,” Paul Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t even stand up for a minute.”

He ran down to place the call to the fire department, which responded in five minutes, he said. The chief got to the scene in less than two minutes.

Rodriguez said fire officials told him there was an “electrical problem” that was being handled.

Chief Robert Berry told reporters at the scene there was no fire, but a “heavy smoke condition” on the second floor. Officials are still investigating what caused the smoke condition but by about 2 p.m., it was safe to go back into the store.

There were no injuries.

Firefighters douse a blaze that overtook a two-story office building on New York Avenue in Huntington village on Tuesday. Photo from Huntington Fire Department

Huntington Town firefighters doused a blaze in the village that ravaged a two-story office building on Tuesday night.

Firefighters douse a blaze that overtook a two-story office building on New York Avenue in Huntington village on Tuesday. Photo from Huntington Fire Department
Firefighters douse a blaze that overtook a two-story office building on New York Avenue in Huntington village on Tuesday. Photo from Huntington Fire Department

The fire broke out at 191 New York Ave. at about 7:45 p.m., according to Steve Silverman, a spokesman for the Town of Huntington Fire Chiefs Council.

The building near Prime Avenue, called the Huntington Law Center, housed a number of law practices, including the Ten Haagen Financial Group and prominent local lawyers Jim Matthews, Jim Gaughran and John Leo.

The Huntington Fire Department responded to the call. The Centerport, Halesite and Huntington Manor fire departments assisted at the scene. The Cold Spring Harbor and Greenlawn fire departments provided standby coverage.

Huntington Fire Department Chief Robert Berry said about 65 local firefighters showed up to douse the blaze. Firefighters didn’t leave the scene until 10:30 p.m., he said.

The cause of the fire was unclear, but the heaviest part of the blaze was in the rear of the building, Berry said in a Wednesday phone interview. There was no damage to adjacent buildings.

“The whole second floor is destroyed and the first floor had severe water and smoke damage,” Berry said.

The town has placarded the building, meaning it is uninhabitable, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter. There is “major structural damage to the roof,” he said.