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Mount Sinai Fire Department

From left: Legislator Sarah Anker, Heritage Trust Vice President Brad Feldman, Jaime Baldassare, Heritage Trust Treasurer Lori Baldassare, and Heritage Trust President Victoria Hazan. Photo from Leg. Anker’s office

Longtime local community member Jaime Baldassare was honored by Suffolk County for decades of volunteerism.

On Sept. 10, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) joined the Heritage Trust Board of Directors to honor Baldassare for his dedication and service to the community. Throughout his life, he has been an active member of the community, devoting his time and energy to various organizations, groups, projects and initiatives.

“I want to personally thank Jaime for all the years of service he has provided to our community,” Anker said. “Our community has been so positively impacted by Jaime. Among Jaime’s many contributions, he was instrumental to the creation and maintenance of our beloved Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.”

Over the years, Baldassare has dedicated himself to community volunteerism by previously serving on the Mount Sinai school board, as past president of the North Shore Youth Council, former vice president of the North Shore Colts and has volunteered at local fire departments since the age of 19. Jaime previously served his community as Assistant Chief and most recently as the Chief of the Mount Sinai Fire Department from 2009 to 2017. Additionally, he has volunteered with the Heritage Center Trust since its inception 20 years ago. His wife, Lori, has also long been an advocate for the Mount Sinai park and currently serves as the trust’s treasurer.

Anker added that Baldassare’s commitment to community involvement and volunteerism has greatly impacted the quality of life of the community and its residents.

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a ceremony for Wilson two days after his death. Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department Facebook

Walter Wilson, a chief at the Mount Sinai Fire Department and longtime firefighter, passed away April 27. He was 80 and had just recently celebrated his birthday before
his passing.

Walter Wilson. Photo by Kevin Redding

Wilson joined the Mount Sinai Fire Department eight years ago, and when he passed away, he was the captain of the fire police Company 4. The 1st Mount Sinai Assistant Chief Randy Nelson said after joining, Wilson quickly became a “staple of leadership within the department, whether it was senior members or new members who were only serving a couple months or years.”

On his birthday, despite his ailments, Wilson stood in his yard as both the fire department and a steady stream of cars from the community rolled by his house to celebrate him turning 80.

In a previous article from 2017 in the Village Beacon Record, Walter Wilson, then 77, was described as a former utilities manager at Stony Brook University and volunteer who came out of retirement to join the firehouse after serving the Yaphank Fire Department for 26 years. There he had served as an officer in the ranks and commissioner of the Yaphank Fire District. He told the reporter at the time of the article that once a fireman, always a fireman.

“I had taken about a 10-year break [between Yaphank and Mount Sinai] and retired, but every time a siren went off in the neighborhood, my wife would say to me, ‘you’re like a dog on a porch, getting ready to go chase cars,’” said Wilson. “But it’s great. I got back in, and I love it.”

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a ceremony April 29 for the fallen captain, with fire trucks rolling out in front of the firehouse on Mount Sinai-Coram Rd underneath a giant American flag and onto North Country road.

“Your kind heart and dedication to the fire department and the community will never be forgotten,” the fire department wrote on Facebook. “May you Rest In Peace Wally we will take it from here.” 

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Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Chiappino

A state audit has left the Mount Sinai Fire District to review their finances after concluding they had too large a surplus of funds.

“These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

—Joseph Tacopina

A state comptroller report released Aug. 23 found officials at the Mount Sinai Fire District raised taxes unnecessarily at a rate of $64,000, or 4 percent, over a four-year period. Due to the district overestimating their spending needs by $312,554 between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018, and underestimating revenue, the district has operated on a surplus of $383,664 over four years.

The report found the board transferred almost all of the operating surplus to its reserve funds, leaving the districts unrestricted fund balance virtually empty.

The report states taxes needed to be increased, which resulted in the hike. The district did not adopt a fund balance policy, a reserve policy, a multi-year financial plan or include an estimate of fund balance when they adopted the budget.

The comptroller’s office says multiyear planning “can be a vital tool to set long-term priorities and work toward goals.” They added the district “should adopt a fund balance policy that addresses the appropriate levels of fund balance to be maintained from year-to-year and provides the board with guidelines during the budget process.”

The district is a public entity run through the state, separate from Brookhaven town. It is governed by a five-seat elected Board of Fire Commissioners, who are responsible for managing the district’s finances, as while as “safeguarding” its resources. The district is separate from the fire department.

In a response letter dated Aug. 9 included in the report, Board Chairman Joseph Tacopina said the board will adopt an amendment to the reserve policy that will set funding balances for reserve accounts and be “more diligent in the documentation of the specific intentions for any year-end appropriations transferred into those established reserve accounts.”

Spokesperson for the comptroller’s office Tania Lopez declined to comment on the audit, stating in an email that it “pretty much speaks for itself.”

The district totaled $27,203 in spending with cases where they didn’t seek the required number of quotes in 2017 for goods and services. The comptroller’s office said they found multiple services for cheaper than the district purchased.

For instance, a car reparir shop was paid $3,125 in June, 2017 for body repairs and truck painting before the district got the two verbal quotes required. In the report, the comptroller’s office said district manager Larry Archer stated there were “limited vendors who could do this work locally,” and the shop was a “sole source vendor.” The comptroller’s office replied it would not be a sole source vendor if there were limited vendors.

In another case, the district purchased lighting fixtures for $2,030. In doing an online search, the comptroller’s office found the same fixtures for $1,628.

In an email, Tacopina reaffirmed claims that the board is doing all they can to be fiscally responsible and added the state restrictions hinder their scope.

“The Mount Sinai Fire District has consistently submitted budgets at or below the instituted New York State mandated 2 percent tax cap,” he said. “The Mount Sinai Fire District works each year successfully to cut costs and conserve the community’s tax dollars. This is despite all the mandates imposed by New York State and the federal government. Those cost savings are transferred each year to reserve funds. These funds are used to improve and maintain Fire district property, purchase life saving equipment and fire apparatus.”

The night of Sept. 11, 2019 was one of solemn remembrance. Community members, Boy Scouts and firefighters gathered in ceremony in both Shoreham and Sound Beach to show that fateful day would not be forgotten.

The event was attended by members of the Wading River, Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai fire departments, as well as Boy Scout Troops 161 and 244, as well as several county, town and state officials.

Many of those younger people who gathered at the 9/11 Community Memorial site in Shoreham with their families were not even alive on that day in 2001. Yet those from the Rocky Point Fire Department and 9/11 Memorial Committee who spoke asked all to remember those several local residents and rescue workers who died 18 years ago. They also spoke of the hundreds who have died after the 9/11 attacks from health issues gained while at the site of the towers and in the weeks afterwards working in the rubble.

In Sound Beach, local residents gathered with the Sound Beach Fire Department gathered community members together in recognition of the historic date. The ceremony was led with opening remarks by Chief of Department Michael Rosasco and Chaplain McKay, who also led with closing prayers.

Firefighters with the Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kevin Redding
Nicholas Beckman. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Mount Sinai Fire Department is among the long list of firehouses on Long Island that has seen a shortage of volunteers in recent years. But the hardworking residents who respond to calls at 3 a.m. wearing MSFD jackets have more than enough burning passion to make up for it.

The department, at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, held an open house April 29 as part of RecruitNY’s federally funded, statewide annual drive designed to help districts recruit volunteer firefighters — anyone 18 or older who wants to serve their community.

While there are still more than twice as many volunteers as career firefighters in the U.S., there’s been a sharp decline.

In Suffolk County, especially, there’s been a drop largely because it’s so expensive to live here, according to Mount Sinai First Assistant Chief Nicholas Beckman.

He added that while the department in the past usually averaged three to four volunteers a year, only one joined in 2016, and there have been no takers yet this year, although a young woman in her early 20s stopped by Sunday to get information and ask questions about the training required of a volunteer.

Walter Wilson. Photo by Kevin Redding

Beckman decided it was time to take advantage of RecruitNY’s services and get the word out.

“I’ll be happy if we get at least one,” Beckman said, adding the department has an agreement with neighboring fire districts, like Miller Place, to help one another when needed.

“Every district around here is struggling and a lot of people are working two jobs and just don’t have the time to make the full commitment,” he said. “It’s hard to juggle personal life, work life and putting in the time here. But without volunteers, there will be no one to get on the trucks.”

Beckman has served 19 years in the department and has been an “honorary member” since he was 9 years old, as the son of the former chief. He said although the training and job itself is tough, there’s nothing more rewarding.

“It’s like a second family when you join here,” he said. “I can always call on the others if I need something, even outside of the firehouse.”

Adam Thomas. Photo by Kevin Redding

Walter Wilson, 77, a former utilities manager at Stony Brook University and volunteer who came out of retirement to join the firehouse after serving the Yaphank Fire Department for 26 years, said once a fireman, always a fireman.

“I had taken about a 10-year break [between Yaphank and Mount Sinai] and retired, but every time a siren went off in the neighborhood, my wife would say to me, ‘you’re like a dog on a porch, getting ready to go chase cars,’” said Wilson, who serves as captain of the fire police controlling traffic. “But it’s great. I got back in, and I love it.”

Adam Thomas, an 11-year volunteer who works full-time as an emergency vehicle technician, said he grew up down the block from the firehouse.

“Just being able to step up and do something and help people is great,” he said. “We’re a close-knit family here, we get along and work together to get something accomplished.”

Janis Henderson. Photo by Kevin Redding

In January, Thomas and another volunteer rescued two duck hunters adrift in 32-degree waters after their boat capsized in Mount Sinai Harbor.

Janis Henderson, 70, a full-time nurse who joined the department in 1974 and made history three years later as the first female recipient of the Firefighter of the Year award — modified for the first time from Fireman of the Year — said she hopes to empower more women to join.

“It’s a wide open thing now and I want them to know they can do anything they want to,” Henderson said. “When I joined, I never found anything I couldn’t do. I never said ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘this is too heavy.’ I love the job and love to get dirty.”

Henderson even suffered serious burns to her hands during an oil tank fire in her early days, because she didn’t want to say anything when her fellow firefighters pushed her too close to the flames while she was holding the nozzle. She said she feels at home in this line of work.

Jaime Baldassare. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s like I inherited 70 brothers — this is my family,” she said. “We take care of each other, and I know they’re always there for me.”

Mount Sinai Fire Chief Jaime Baldassare, who started as a volunteer at the Dix Hills Fire Department when he was 19, said he’s still at it because he feels the need to help.

“There’s nothing quite like when you pull someone out of a fire or out of a wrecked car and you find out the next day that they made it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe. I love to do this. We train to be the best we can be so anytime a call comes in, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to help the people of Mount Sinai.”

To volunteer, visit the Mount Sinai Fire Department at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road or call 631-473-2418.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Police officers and firefighters from the Mount Sinai Fire Department rescued three hunters after their boat capsized in Mount Sinai Harbor the morning of Jan. 22.

James Knipe and his son, also named James, along with Kendrick Pisano, were duck hunting in a boat in Mount Sinai Harbor when their vessel took on water and overturned. After the three entered the water, they clung to the overturned boat and the elder Knipe, 47, called 911 on his cell phone.

Suffolk Police notified the United States Coast Guard and the Mount Sinai Fire Department. When Sixth Precinct officers arrived on scene, they observed all three clinging to the overturned boat and holding onto life jackets. Members of the Mount Sinai Fire Department launched an inflatable vessel and rescued the younger Knipe, 17, and Pisano, 16, from the water. Suffolk Police Marine Bureau Officers John Castorf and Christopher DeFeo, aboard Marine November, pulled James Knipe from the water.

All three victims were brought to the boat ramp and transported to local hospitals for treatment of exposure and hypothermia. Pisano, of Miller Place, was taken to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson and the Knipes, of Middle Island, were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Marine Bureau officers recovered and secured the vessel, the victims’ belongings and three shotguns from the harbor.

The water temperature at the time of the incident was approximately 45 degrees. The Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau reminds boaters and hunters that New York State Law requires that personal flotation devices be worn at all times on vessels less than 21 feet in length, from November 1 to May 1.