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Port Jefferson Fire Department

Photo by Julianne Mosher

With restrictions finally lifted, people from across Suffolk County — and even Connecticut — were able to finally celebrate the Fourth of July with a favorite traadition.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department Independence Day Parade was cancelled, along with most other events, last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this year, things seemed back to normal with hundreds of people gathered on the sidewalks of Port Jefferson village, decked in their most patriotic wear, to celebrate America’s birthday. 

“I’m just glad that we’re back to some sort of normalcy,” said Todd Stumpf, department chief. “We’re glad to see the public back together to help celebrate the country’s birth.”

Vintage cars drove down the road, waving American flags out of their windows as excited kids and their families waved from the sidewalk. Children ran to their parents who marched in uniform when they spotted them from the sidelines. Dancers waved red, white, and blue pom poms whiles pipes and drums played their sounds. Even the Batmobile made an appearance. 

Although the parade included Port Jeff and Terryville, members from South Shore, eastern, and western Suffolk County departments joined together to march along Main Street on July 5. 

Since the Fourth of July was on a Sunday this year, the fire department decided to host the parade a day later, on Monday, to respect the local churches throughout the village. 

“From our end it ran really smooth,” said Steve Erland, third assistant chief. “It’s just so nice to bring it back to the community.”

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.

Flames shoot out from the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street. The building was fully involved when volunteers from the Port Jefferson Fire Department arrived at the scene. PJFD Collection

By Kenneth Brady

A ferocious fire erupted at the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street at 6:20 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 26, 1960.

Erwin McMullen, whose East Main Street grocery was across from the furniture store, heard the sound of shattering glass hitting the sidewalk as windows in O.B. Davis were blown out by the intense heat.

Irving Lee, chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, and his wife Laura were driving on the village’s Main Street heading toward the Elk Restaurant when he saw the mass of flames. Not wasting a second in turning his car around, Lee quickly shifted into reverse, backed all the way to the firehouse on Maple Place and took command of the situation.

“The store was fully involved when units arrived at the scene,” recalled Mike Lee, who witnessed the blaze as a teenager and would later become chief of the PJFD. “Flames were shooting out of the upper floors of the building.”

The volunteer firemen spent hours battling the fire and protecting exposures at the Presbyterian Church, Port Hardware and nearby homes before bringing the roaring blaze under control.

Despite the best efforts of the PJFD, plus mutual aid from neighboring fire departments, the building was completely destroyed in the inferno.

Volunteer firemen battle the roaring blaze at the O.B. Davis furniture store on Port Jefferson’s East Main Street. The ferocious fire claimed one life and destroyed a village landmark. PJFD Collection

The savage fire also claimed the life of Clifford Ivines, the store’s watchman and an over 50-year employee of O.B. Davis, whose body was later found in the building’s ruins.

“Not only did Port Jefferson lose a life and a landmark building in the devastating fire,” said longtime villager Barbara Schroeder who owns a prized desk bought at the O.B. Davis furniture store, “but also part of Port Jefferson’s history.”

O.B. Davis traces the firm’s origins back to 1858 when Elbert A. Raynor bought the late Ambrose T. King’s funeral parlor/furniture shop. The building was located approximately across from today’s Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry landing on East Broadway.

Raynor moved the firm in 1898 to East Main Street at Hotel Square. Upon Raynor’s death in 1914, Orlando B. Davis took over the business.

The company’s furniture and funeral divisions separated in 1935. The former continued its activities at Hotel Square while the latter began operations in a new home at 218 East Main Street.

In 1939, the existing furniture store was remodeled, and an addition was constructed to the west of the original quarters.

Built of steel frame and cinder block with stucco on the outside, the three-story addition provided elevator service, 15 model rooms and 17,000 square-feet of floor space. The front was faced with black porcelain and featured three show windows.

“At the time of the fire, one of the show windows at the furniture store included a beautiful canopied bed with white ruffles that I thought of buying for our newborn daughter Brenda,” remembered former Port Jefferson Mayor Sandra Swenk, “but the flames reduced everything to ruins.”

The twisted wreckage of what was once the largest retail furniture store in Suffolk County was hauled away after the fire. The Sil-Flo Building at 407 East Main Street, which houses the local United States Post Office, now occupies the site of the blaze.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

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The Port Jefferson and Terryville Fire Comissioner elections will be held Dec. 8. File photo by Kyle Barr

The two local fire departments are gearing up for their annual elections, both with one fire commissioner seat apiece up for vote. In both fire districts, incumbents are running unopposed and looking to retain their seats.

Commissioners are unpaid elected board members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. The commissioners determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

Port Jefferson Fire District

The Port Jefferson Fire District is hosting its annual commissioner election, with current commissioner board chairman, Tom Totten, running uncontested for his seat. He has been chairman since 2006.

Totten did not respond to a request for interview by press time.

The vote will take place Dec. 8 at the firehouse located at 115 Maple Place between 3 and 9 p.m.

Terryville Fire District

The Terryville Fire District’s annual commissioner election also includes a separate proposition asking residents to approve expenditures for communications enhancements districtwide.

This year Board of Fire Commissioners chairman, James Rant, is running unopposed to retain his seat. Rant is a 36-year member of the department and has been commissioner for 10 years. He’s now seeking a third term.

In a phone interview Rant said he originally ran back in 2010 to offer his experience and knowledge to make sure people’s tax money is spent “as prudently as possible.”

This year, the pandemic has introduced numerous new strains on the department’s emergency services, an event which practically no entity from hospitals to governments had any playbook for dealing with a worldwide virus. Rant said the district and department had to scramble to procure the necessary personal protective equipment along with disinfecting supplies, all of which were an added cost in both supplies and manpower. Now, however, the commissioner said they are prepared for the current surge.

“We’ve been holding our own — obviously there was no playbook,” Rant said. “We did prepare for the surge we’re having now. We have cleaning supplies, gloves and other equipment coming up into the fall and winter season. We’re in pretty good shape.”

As far as the additional proposition, voters are being asked to authorize the district to purchase and upgrade its communication equipment and systems at a price not to exceed $783,000.

Rant said the district has been preparing for this big expenditure for the past few years, and the purchase will not impact residents’ taxes. 

“It’s moving us along with the times in terms of communications,” he said. “Good communication for a fire department’s operations is crucial.”

The purchase includes new radio technology both in the field and at base. Technology will also allow the district to adjust temperature and turn on/off lights, which will reduce energy waste and potentially save money.

The district had previously been planning to potentially place a cell tower at the station 1 firehouse on Jayne Boulevard, which would have brought in some revenue to the district, but Rant said that the decision was made a few months ago to drop those plans.

The commissioner said the issue was if the district allowed a cell tower to go up at that location then companies would need 24/7 access, and they “weren’t willing to submit our neighbors in the middle of the night have work trucks and power tools going on.”

The vote will take place Dec. 8 at the main firehouse located at 19 Jayne Blvd., Port Jefferson Station, between 2 and 9 p.m.

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A bell is wrung for every name read commemorating the people who died on 9/11. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson Fire Department held a private ceremony the morning of Sept. 11 to commemorate the events of 9/11 on its 19th anniversary. Many local ceremonies are being held privately this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rev. Gary Gudzik led the assembled department members in prayer before PJFD Chief Todd Stumpf got up to the mike to speak some solemn words, saying they were not only there to remember all those lost when the towers fell, but also all those who have died after or are sick because of injuries or adverse health impacts from breathing the dust kicked up by the fallen buildings.

“We gather because we will never forget,” Stumpf said.

Retired FDNY Captain David Loper read off the many names of Brookhaven residents who died on that fateful day 19 years ago, while 2nd Assistant Chief Anthony Barton read off the names of the local police who died during the events of 9/11.

This article was amended to correct the name of the Port Jefferson Fire Chief.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson village continues to plan for a number of ongoing projects. Here’s some notes from the June 1 meeting.

• The village has voted to waive all dining table application fees and outdoor dining public hearings, and permits would be effective for the full 2020 season. One example officials gave was Tiger Lily Cafe, which has one outdoor table setting but could expand to host more of its services outside. The village is still working out details with some restaurants, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields, to use residential parking lots as outdoor dining space for shops looking to participate.

• As the Port Jefferson Fire Department will not be making a decision on the annual July 4 parade until mid-June, the board voted to push back the fireworks show, normally held at East Beach, until potentially later in the summer. Mayor Margot Garant suggested the dates of Aug. 1 or 2 to coincide with potential graduation plans with the Port Jefferson School Districtm although no dates have officially been set as of yet. Fireworks by Grucci, which normally hosts the village’s fireworks displays, notified officials they would see no problem in providing the displays at a later date.

• Bike racks have already been installed at the small park by the village center, and now there are new bike racks next to the basketball courts near Rocketship Park. 

• A new electric vehicle charger has been installed at the parking lot in front of Rocketship Park. So far there have been 31 charging sessions with each session averaging a total of 1 hour and 21 minutes. The village plans to install another charging station at the Barnum Avenue parking lot once the lot is finally constructed.

Candidates Ruminate on Past accomplishments and Future Challenges

The Port Jefferson and Terryville Fire Comissioner elections will be held Dec. 8. File photo by Kyle Barr

While Port Jefferson Fire District Commissioner David Okst is running unopposed in the village, Terryville Fire District’s race is contested with two members vying for one seat. Commissioner Bernie Reynolds is planning to retire, which means volunteer member Daniel Gruosso is running against Captain James Guma of Company 1. 

Commissioners are unpaid elected board  members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. They determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

All districts’ polls are open Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots. Residents of Port Jefferson Station or Terryville can cast their ballots at the firehouse located at 19 Jayne Blvd. in Port Jefferson Station from 2 to 9 p.m. Residents of Port Jefferson can cast their ballots at the firehouse located at 115 Maple Pl. from 3 to 9 p.m.

Here is a rundown of those seeking a term at their respective districts.

Terryville Fire District

James Guma is running for Terryville Fire Commissioner. Provided photo

Guma, a current fire captain of Fire Company 1, said he wants to use both his experience running his own business, the Port Jeff Station-based D James Marketing, and his firefighting experience to help run the district.

“I would be honored to further serve our fire community and district as commissioner,” he said. 

Guma has been a longtime resident of the area, having graduated from the Comsewogue School District in 1981, and he currently owns a home in the district. He cites his years as a New York City police sergeant for his knowledge of leadership and his experience in his own business and in helping friends open Due Baci Restaurant in Port Jefferson village, saying he has knowledge of employee management, buying and selling equipment and sending requests for proposals. The district handles over 40 employees, he said.

“Running for this position takes having business strengths,” he said.

In addition, he said he is active in the local community as a civic and chamber member as well as a past president and current treasurer of the Red Knights Long Island Chapter NY-26 motorcycle club.

As a member of the department for over 30 years, he said he has been dedicated to the area not just as an officer but also as a member of the carnival committee and has served as department chairman.

He added that ensuring the safety of the community requires providing the necessary resources to the department, especially since other local departments such as the Setauket Fire Department have started to hire a few paid firefighters. However, he said he does not see Terryville needing to hire paid firefighters any time in the near future. 

“It’s all volunteers and it should be that way,” he said. 

Gruosso has lived in the district for 25 years, having bought the house from his parents who originally lived there. He has been a member of the Terryville Fire Department for four years, having taken a hiatus two decades ago when he had been with the department for two years before leaving to manage a hefty job schedule.

Dan Gruosso is running against Captain James Guma of Company 1. Provided photo

Now that he’s been with the department for a while, and with one of his two sons a member as well, he said he wants to offer up his time.

“I saw it as a good opportunity to give back,” he said.

He currently lives in the district and has seen two sons graduate from Comsewogue. He works as a diesel mechanic and has spent more than 17 years with the Operating Engineers Local 15 union. Overall, it’s a job he describes as “turning a wrench all my life.”

Gruosso is part of the antique fire truck committee, where he does all the mechanical work for both engines on his own time. 

As commissioner, he said he would work to assure tax dollars are used wisely and be a voice for both the first responders and community members. He added that as commissioner he would have the opportunity to show the district mechanic some of what he knows, as he often goes out for schooling on mechanical matters.

“I’m looking to give back my time, and give up some of my knowledge,” he said.

He added he has seen no animosity between the candidates and both remain friends in the department.

Port Jefferson Fire District

Okst, a 30-year veteran of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, ran in 2014 for commissioner and has decided to run again this year. His seat is uncontested.

“I’m happy to do it,” Okst said. “I’ve enjoyed being able to give back to the community.”

The commissioner said he was a longtime member and once treasurer of the department. The district, he added, has gone through a bout of turnover, which has bred new blood on the board of fire commissioners. 

In the past five years, he said the district has used Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant funds to purchase a new fire boat. The funds were secured in part by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). This is important for a small district such as Port Jeff, but while the district is reaching out feelers for additional grants, such funds have become more and more competitive and thus harder to come by. 

In the near future, the district is planning on some sort of flood mitigation for the firehouse, which was inundated in September 2018 after flash floods buried the floor in nearly 4 feet of water. 

“It was the worst flood members had ever seen,” he said. 

Okst added they were looking at items such as flood doors in the building’s main floor doorways to help stop such an event from happening again. 

In addition, the district has purchased a building for training purposes, where members can restructure the layout of a room with removable walls while fighting through fake smoke. However, state requirements mandate members train with a bailout harness system, and volunteers have had to travel to nearby departments to use their training equipment. The district is using budget funds to create a bailout system for its training room. 

In addition, the district has resolved to use money from its reserve fund to install a new roof on the annex building, with a cost not to exceed $60,000. The roof, Okst said, is leaking as the building is over 20 years old. They hope to put that project out to bid in the near future.


While not as bad as last year, village continues plans to reduce water’s impact

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

July 22 was a sudden reminder of a certain day last year in September, when water ran down Main Street like a river, and parts of Port Jefferson were drowned in water.

The area outside Theatre Three was under 2 feet of water July 22. Photo from Brian Hoerger

Instead, July 22 was a moderate rain by comparison, only hit with 2.35 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, instead of the more-than 4 inches it received in that last major storm.

Still reeling from massive flash floods that inundated Port Jefferson village last year, those who were most impacted by the September waters said they were more prepared for the high waters this year. 

Brennan Holmes, the chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said they had learned from their mistakes last year, and for the first time put into practice their new flood protocols.

“Last night was a good test,” Holmes said the day after the flooding. “Although there was a lot of water, it went by real quick.”

Last year waters reached nearly 5 feet in the main firehouse, though this year the fire department moved its emergency vehicles from the department building up to the higher ends of Maple Place, but waters didn’t enter the firehouse. The department also made use of a recently converted high-water rescue vehicle, donated by the Miller Place Fire Department. That was available as well as department members in water rescue suits, according to Holmes.

In addition to dealing with the flooding, the department responded to two automatic alarms caused by lightning, three welfare checks on the businesses of Ruvo East, Old Fields Restaurant and Theatre Three, all of which had been hard hit last year. The department also assisted in removing a person from a vehicle which was situated in about a foot of water.

The fire department closed off Main Street for about an hour from around 7 p.m. to a little after 8 p.m. Holmes said this resulted in much less traffic into and out of the village, making it much safer for motorists.

“We fared much better than last September, which we’re really happy about,” the fire chief said.

Mayor Margot Garant was adamant that last year’s high of 4 inches of rain dropped in under an hour plus the high water table led to the described devastation. She said she is especially concerned the idea of Port Jefferson as a flooding town will impact the village’s image and its businesses.

“I think everybody has to think that was such an exceptional event,” she said. “It’s all about the tide. If there had been a coastal storm surge, it would have been a different scenario. It’s a coastal resiliency issue.”

Last September one of the most heavily impacted by the flooding was Theatre Three, which received nearly 4 feet of water in its downstairs area, causing thousands upon thousands of dollars in damage to props, costumes and electrical equipment.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood.”

— Brian Hoerger

Brian Hoerger, the facilities manager for the theater, was at the head of last year’s cleanup, coordinating close to 50 volunteers in cleaning up the mess left by that storm. On his Facebook page, Hoerger said seeing the waters roll down Main Street reminded him of the harrowing September flood.

“Nothing like a little flash flood to trigger the old PTSD from the last flood,” Hoerger wrote.

The back doors by Theatre Three had waters rising close to 2 feet, according to the theater facilities manager, though only around 3 inches made its way through the lower doors since he was able to stack sandbags at the breach. Still, pictures showed water was making its way through cracks in the brickwork like sprinklers.

Hoerger, along with Steve Ayle, an actor in the theater, moved the precious theater items to higher ground while helping to vacuum up the muddy liquid in the theater’s lower floor.

Garant responded to Hoerger on Facebook showing him potential flood resistant door panels to resist rain, though Hoerger said much of the water came up from under the building as they sit on a below-ground creek.

What is currently being done to prevent flooding

Three months ago, Port Jefferson officials approved a scoping of the water line that runs and empties into Mill Creek, though Garant said while they wait for the engineers report to return to the village, they believe there is a low point in the line underneath the grass by the basketball courts where a pumping system might be able to help that water flow faster, and not get caught up in and around the low point by those nearby restaurants and Theatre Three.

In June, Campani and Schwarting Architects released a draft version of the Watershed Management and Storm Surge Study. Though the architects have yet to publish a full report, the draft discussed potentially daylighting Mill Creek, along with the culvert at the Brookhaven parking lot by the harbor and the Meadow parking lot. It also mentioned a permeable pavement system in municipal lots, along with rain gardens at low areas such as an expansion of the pond by Old Fields and the Brookhaven parking lot.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment back in September 2018. File Photo by Kyle Barr

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

The village would also look to implement long-term projects, including daylighting Mill Creek, reducing impermeable paving throughout the village, introducing bioswales and rain gardens as part of the storm drainage system and redesigning the parking areas at the waterfront to mitigate flooding.

“There’s proactive measures and there’s mitigation measures,” Garant said. “We’re throwing the kitchen sink at the state to help us with these coastal resiliency issues.”

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

In this case, the village would have to put the money upfront and be paid back from the grant funds at a later date. The deadline for those grants is Friday, July 26.

Garant said that soon the village will be partnering with the Long Island Explorium in Port Jeff in constructing three rain gardens using $43,626 in grant funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund initiative. These will be located in front of Village Hall, at Village Center and a final one in the traffic barrier next to the loading ramp for the ferry.

Deal looks to make headway on Station Street

The current Texaco Parking lot was phase three of the Uptown Funk project. Phase three is to be Station Street, built when the Conifer project is finalized. Photo by David Luces

A small parcel on Oakland Avenue in Upper Port Jefferson is part of a planned sale between the Port Jefferson Fire District and Port Jefferson village in order to make room for Station Street, the last part of the eponymous Uptown Funk project.

Mayor Margot Garant said the village has purchased the property for $25,000 as part of a handshake deal with the fire department as an element of creating Station Street. That project has been on hold until final design plans come forward from the Conifer project, which would create mixed-use apartments and retail space in the footprint of the old Bada Bing parcel.

Though the property sale is only one bump toward getting the new street built, it does cross over a small piece of old time village history.

The property, a sand lot of only around 20 or so feet, was once home to one of the district’s siren towers. At its infancy, it was just a simple bell rung by hand to alert neighbors there was a fire.

Fire District Manager Doug Savage said that those towers were used by the district in the mid-20th century, though they were phased out with the advent of modern communication technology. At one point the district contained three of these sirens, with one near the elementary school still being around. The one on top of the firehouse is the only one still used. 

“That’s all they had to alert people of a fire call,” he said. 

The pole that contained the bell had rotted out, cracked and fell down likely over 20 years ago, Savage said.

Garant said it is a good deal for the fire department, who hasn’t found a use for the property in years.

“They could use the coin in the bank,” she said.

Tom Totton, the fire district commissioners chairman of the board, said the property is not big enough for anyone to build upon. 

In a legal notice published by The Port Times Record, it notes the real property is valued at more than $20,000 and less than $100,000. The notice said it has also deemed the property surplus to the fire district.

“The village wants that piece of property, so we have a deal to sell them the property,” he said.

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Street sign for the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fire department says light is unnecessary

Red means stop. 

Motorists traveling down Main Street in the Village of Port Jefferson may soon come face to face with a new traffic light at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. That corner is notorious for traffic especially around 2 p.m. when the high school and middle school lets out.

The new light is planned to be installed with a 3M Opticom system, which allows emergency vehicles to automatically change a light while they are moving through. While these could mean a more orderly road, the Port Jefferson Fire Department has said it would need to add costly upgrades to their emergency vehicles to be usable by the department.

“We’re going to have to work with the fire department because they need those mechanisms in their trucks, whether they’re installed in the lights or not,” village Mayor Margot Garant said. “We need to mitigate the way that traffic is flying down the hill.”

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff.”

— Margot Garant

The New York State Department of Transportation confirmed it will make those changes to the intersection and pay the costs of installation, as well as change the island at the corner of Barnum Avenue and Main Street to make it a single crosswalk instead of two crosswalks separated by the current island.

Plans have changed since they were initially introduced to the community. Originally those plans called for an island on Main Street just after the Liberty intersection. However, that island has since been changed to double yellow lines after concerns came up about getting snowplows through.

The most contentious part of the new plans comes from the fire department, which worries about the expensive cost of getting the Opticom system installed on all 17 of the department’s first-responding vehicles.

Garant said she is willing to have the village partner with the fire department in seeking grant funding. This would be especially important with more stop lights planned for different parts of the village, including at the top of Belle Terre Road, Sheep Pasture Road and Myrtle Avenue, the latter light will have an Opticom box donated from Suffolk County, according to the village mayor. 

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff,” Garant said. “All of our lights should have that capability to have the fire department change the lights anyway.”

The department sent a letter to the engineering firm L.K. McLean Associates, of Brookhaven, that drew up the original plans, while giving a copy to the mayor, reading, “Each time that discussion has come up our department has opposed it.”

In the letter, Port Jefferson Fire Chief Brennan Holmes questioned the purpose of the traffic light on Liberty, saying they have reviewed the traffic collisions in that area, and over the past five years, the vehicle-pedestrian accidents responded to occurred at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Main Street, mainly caused by visibility issues and not speeding. 

“For the fire department it presents a great difficulty getting down Main Street,” Holmes said. “It’s not solving the issue they described as the problem.”

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light.”

— Brennan Holmes

Though Holmes said he would accept the help of the village finding funding for the Opticom system, he added that a light could still cause huge backup for his fleet of vehicles, especially if multiples need to get through the intersection at once.

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light,” he said. “In addition, it will change the light and give you the green, but during our response you might have multiple vehicles … we might have total congestion there.”

Garant said the decision for the light was made not just by her, but by the DOT in trying to mitigate pedestrian accidents on that road. Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman for the state DOT said the new light was part of the state’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, a $110 million program which started in 2016 aiming to improve pedestrian safety through infrastructure development. He added the light should be installed by 2020.

Currently, none of the stoplights in the village have the Opticom technology. Village Department of Public Works Superintendent Steve Gallagher said there are three lights owned by the village and the rest owned by New York State. The village is in charge of the lights at Myrtle and Belle Terre Road, at North Country Road and Belle Terre Road, and North Country and North Columbia Street.

The Town of Brookhaven has already equipped many of the stoplights on major town roads with the Opticom system and provided grants to assist fire departments in equipping their vehicles with the light-changing devices, except Port Jefferson Fire Department.