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.
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.
“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.”