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Port Jefferson fire chiefs accepting recognition of Mayor Lauren Sheprow at the March 27 village trustees board meeting. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

By Lynn Hallarman

Village officials honored the service of the Port Jefferson Fire Department at the board of trustees meeting at Village Hall on March 27. 

Chief Soeren Lygum, first Assistant Chief Anthony Barton and third Assistant Chief Christian Neubert were present to accept special recognition on behalf of the fire department. 

“I thought it was an important time to recognize the fire department after the recent fire in the Port Jefferson village on Feb. 22 in which you preserved the health and safety of many people in the community by curtailing that blaze,” Mayor Lauren Sheprow said. 

“We’ve had a great working relationship with Mayor Sheprow,” Lygum said. “We’re constantly communicating with her when anything is happening in the village.” 

The mayor recounted numerous fire and rescue operations for the public, in which the fire department participated. 

Villagers were reminded they could become volunteer firefighters. “You can stop by, and we have applications readily available,” Lygum said. 

Dangerous roadways

Several residents spoke about long-standing problems with traffic accidents, dangerous intersections and a lack of walkable corridors into the village.

Janice Fleischman described the “multiple scary moments with cars” walking her dog on Old Post Road East near Laurel Drive. “It’s gotten worse because of debris and encroaching foliage,” she said. 

Fleischman cited data issued by Suffolk County between 2017 and 2021 demonstrating that the county had the highest number of people who died while walking, bicycling, riding a motorcycle or driving than any other county in New York State during the same period. 

“The suburbs were engineered for cars, not for people to walk,” she said. “Now we know that’s not good for our health.” She advocated for a network of sidewalks and to remediate dangerous intersections before “a terrible accident happens.” 

Lisa Jaeger reiterated Fleischman’s concerns about dangerous walking conditions on Old Post Road near Laurel Drive. 

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve almost hit people coming around that corner from Laurel Drive going down the hill toward Old Post Road. It’s very dangerous,” she said

Barbara Sabatino described perilous traffic conditions and numerous accidents near her home on East Broadway. She advocated for traffic-calming measures and enforcement. 

Trustee Rebecca Kassay responded to concerns by informing the public of a recent walkability study completed by the village. The next steps will include strategic discussions with the planning board and trustees, and seeking grant funding to address dangerous areas in the village’s most trafficked areas.

Municipal parking administrator position

Kevin Wood, an employee of the Village of Port Jefferson for the past seven years as the municipal parking administrator, gave an impassioned speech arguing against eliminating his position as part of the tentative 2024-25 fiscal budget.

“I won’t go into the complexity of our system but, suffice it to say, it is extremely complicated and busy. The village needs and deserves a dedicated parking administrator,” Wood said. 

He added, “Port Jefferson Village processes 250,000 transactions per eight-month season. No other village on Long Island even comes close to that. Parking brings in good revenue.” 

Wood highlighted some of his accomplishments in the past several years, including the revenue-generating digitally managed parking; the completion of the “first downtown parking lot in 50 years” — the Barnum parking lot, that is free for village employees; EV charges, merchant billing, pay-by-plate parking and lot security cameras. 

 “Parking is hugely complicated. It takes somebody to negotiate and bring what we’re up against to the board,” Wood said. 

Sabatino questioned the elimination of the parking administrator position. “The parking is so complex nowadays I can’t see eliminating the position without something else taking its place,” she said. 

Village attorney, David Moran, responded: “The board, when it decides to act, will act in this room publicly, and if it decides to go whatever way, we’ll fully lay out the plan in this room.”

The board of trustees will hold a work session Wednesday, April 10, at 5 p.m.

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Photo from PJFD

It takes a team.

On Oct. 28, at approximately 7:05 p.m., Port Jefferson Fire Department rescue personnel joined Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers to respond to a report of two kayakers in distress in Port Jefferson Harbor.

According to PJFD, the department was alerted initially by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound of a possible kayaker in distress. 

With help from the Grand Republic — of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry — two victims were located on the west side of the inlet at the entrance of the harbor clinging to the jetty. 

Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, said that when two victims were spotted, the ferry captain moved the boat to where a rescue swimmer from Marine 6 entered the water and made contact with a man and woman on the jetty. 

“We used the searchlights on the boat and were able to spot them,” Hall said. “We were happy to come on the scene and help out at the appropriate time.”

Photo from PJFD

Hall said that the boats captain, Michael Purce, helped keep the boat steady as the roughly 30-minute rescue went on. 

PJFD 1st Assistant Chief Soeren Lygum said that when the Coast Guard put out the alert, all three agencies sprang into action within seconds apart. 

Captain Christian Neubert was one of nearly a dozen first responders who helped rescue the duo in the inlet. 

“It was a dangerous situation out there because of the strong current,” he said, adding that it was also high tide, so visibility was difficult because of rocks below the waterline.

Due to those jetty rocks, PJFD Inflatable 14 was deployed from Anchorage Road and used to transport the victims from the jetty to Marine 6. 

Neubert swam into the cold waters to help pull them into the department’s inflatable rescue boat manned by Ex-Chief Brennan Holmes and firefighter Joe Pisciotta. Ex-Chief Charlie Russo operated Marine 6 alongside Lieutenant Geoffrey Markson.

The victims were brought to the boat ramp by Russo and Markson where they were evaluated by Port Jefferson EMS.

Although exhausted, both individuals refused medical attention and ultimately were uninjured. 

“This is a scenario we practice so our rescue personnel are well trained for it,” Lygum said. “Everyone involved did a great job and it’s always a good day when everyone goes home safe.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The North Shore of Long Island was hit hard when the aftermath of Tropical Depression Ida swept along the East Coast.

While the storm pummeled the Island Wednesday night, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Suffolk County. Severe flooding headed down Main Street, E Broadway and the side streets of Port Jefferson, causing damage to local stores, the Port Jefferson Fire Department and Theatre Three.

Photo from PJFD

On Wednesday night the fire department responded to numerous water rescue emergencies, and multiple victims were rescued from their vehicles by its High Water unit. They were joined by the Terryville Fire Department and Mount Sinai Fire Department.

According to the PJFD, in some cases, civilians were found on the roof of their vehicles, or trapped within a floating vehicle. Additionally, a landslide took place on Dark Hallow Road, which left the road essentially impassable with nearly 4-feet of mud and debris.

As a result of the landslide, eight families were evacuated from their apartment building due to unstable conditions of the land.

While fire department volunteers made their ways out to help others, they, too, were victims of the storm. The firehouse on Maple Avenue suffered extensive flood damage.

“Our firefighters did an excellent job coordinating multiple rescues,” said Chief of Department Todd Stumpf. “We have a lot of cleanup ahead, but we are fully in service and able to respond to all emergencies.”

Photo from PJFD

He added that fortunately no injuries were reported during the storm.

Down the street, Theatre Three said they had more than three-and-a-half feet of water inside as of Wednesday morning.

Executive artistic director Jeffrey Sanzel said that the theatre has had its fair share of floods throughout the years, and even though they were more prepared for Ida than others in the past, it was still a hard hit.

“This will be two or three days of cleaning,” he said, “But we’ll get it done and you won’t know what happened.”

Water record-setting levels heading too close for comfort to the stage downstairs. Sanzel said water knocked over and carried one of the dumpsters outside, as well as damaged dozens of costumes, furniture and a beautiful, donated upright piano that is now ruined.

Other businesses like Ruvo and Lavender Fields had flood damage and are currently in the midst of cleaning up.

“Port Jeff was hit again with a flash flood of over 7’’ of torrential rainfall,” said Mayor Margot Garant. “While it hit hard, we remain resilient and continue our work with the state emergency office and state agencies on our flood remediation efforts.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Sometimes there are other events that happen Down Port that require assistance. 

Along with the car accidents, fires, and animal rescues, the Port Jefferson Fire Department had to get innovative last week when a 14-year-old girl accidentally got locked in a dressing room.

At approximately 1 p.m. on June 22, Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct officers responded to Kate and Hale, located at 227 Main Street, to help Giavanna Diesso, of Hauppauge, get out of an unusual situation. 

Diesso’s mother, Danielle, said that while she was checking out at the counter, Giavanna was finishing inside the dressing room — which nearly a century ago was the First National Bank of Port Jefferson bank vault. 

Giavanna Diesso after being saved. Photo from PJFD

When her friend, Ava, 14, left the dressing room, the group joked that they should lock Giavanna in — and her 7-year-old brother Vincent took it literally, giving the door a shove.

“The door shut, and I was terrified,” Danielle said. “I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get her out. I wasn’t sure of the measure they would need to go in order to get her out. I was concerned about air, concerned about her feeling safe, but she maintained such composure. It’s unbelievable.”

The teen stayed cool and collected while the fire department headed inside to assess. 

“I was just wondering how long it might take before someone would come to get me out,” Giavanna said. 

The department headed into the store, where her family and friends were frantically worried. 

“The first arriving rig was our rescue seven, and obviously as soon as they walked in, they realized something was going on,” said third assistant chief Steve Erland.

The team assessed that Giavanna was safe inside and had plenty of oxygen. Then, they got to work.

“Once we knew she had air, we were able to step back and kind of reevaluate, and take the time, to come up with a plan,” he said.

Photo from PJFD

Through the metal door, firefighter Tom Meehan asked the girl to record her surroundings with her iPhone to see how much room they had as they planned a way out. 

“She was great,” Meehan said. “She followed directions.”

Ex-chief Brennan Holmes got the air chisel off from the rescue truck to work on the 100-year-old wall. When the first hole was made, he was able to see Giavanna inside, where he was able to assess how big the next opening should be. Through the hole, they handed her a bottle of water and an N95 mask.

With some more chiseling, Holmes and Captain Christian Neubert were able to pull her out — which was caught on film and has since gone viral online.

“This is not something anybody does every day,” Homes said. “But once that first hole was through, and we were able to see her and realize everything was going to work out, it was a great feeling.”

Joined with help from the Terryville Fire Department, Erland said the whole rescue took about 90 minutes. 

And considering this type of event is not something firefighters are typically trained for; they were proud of how it all ended up.

“What makes it odd or challenging is this is not something we’ve ever practiced or talked about,” Neubert said. “We’ve never talked about, like, all right … what do we do if we get a girl locked up in a dressing room?”

But with teamwork, the whole procedure went smoothly.

Holmes said the closest training they would typically get in a similar nature would be for a building collapse — so that’s why a plan was needed from the start.

“Having a plan was the big step one because we don’t normally do that,” he said. “But then when it was breaking concrete, we knew that we could do this.”

Cookies sent to the PJFD as a thank you from the Diesso family . Photo by Julianne Mosher

Danielle was happy to have her daughter out and said she will forever be grateful to the Port Jefferson Fire Department.

“First responders certainly are not given the credit and gratitude that they really deserve,” she said. “They leave their families to come across a situation. They’re not even probably 100% sure what they’re getting into so, it’s incredible.”

While the tale of Giavanna and the vault has made national headlines since her Tuesday rescue, Holmes said it was a happy ending.

“It worked out,” he said. “And that’s the best part of the whole story.”

The Port Jefferson Fire Department is always looking for volunteers. If interested, visit them on Facebook or call 631-473-8910.

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Village ready to kick off parade and fireworks on July 4

Antonio Febles, 3, and sister Sofia Febles, 7, from Port Jefferson Station get into the spirit despite the rain at the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s July 4 parade last year. Photo by Bob Savage

Port Jefferson is going to be a sea of red, white and blue on Saturday, July 4.

To kick off the day, the Port Jefferson Fire Department will hold its annual Independence Day parade, rain or shine.

The event will start at 10 a.m., with participants marching down Main Street from the Infant Jesus Church at Myrtle Avenue to the harbor, turning left on West Broadway toward Barnum Avenue, and then finishing at the firehouse on Maple Place.

According to the PJFD, roads along the parade route and participant lineup areas will be closed at 8:15 a.m. that day, including Main Street going as far south as North Country Road; Reeves Road; and High Street between Main and Stony Hill Road. Detour signs will direct drivers to the ferry and downtown area.

Later in the day, weather permitting, Port Jefferson Village will continue its annual tradition of setting off fireworks between its East and West beaches in a salute to the nation’s freedom and its Founding Fathers.

The free fireworks show will kick off at 9 p.m.

A resident parking sticker is required to park at the village beaches.

The fireworks are also visible from the neighboring Cedar Beach on Mount Sinai Harbor.