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Port Jefferson

Photo courtesy John Proios

Prepared by John Proios

William “Bill” Proios died peacefully at age 71 from cancer at Good Shepherd Hospice Center in Port Jefferson on Friday, Nov. 11. 

Bill spent his final days surrounded by family and friends. Born in Detroit, Michigan, July 16, 1951, to Panayiotis and Angeline Proios, he lived most of his life in Port Jefferson. He won the high school’s first New York State wrestling championship in 1969 during his senior year. He was also president of his senior class. 

While studying at Stony Brook University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in American history, he co-authored the book “Port Jefferson: Story of a Village.” 

Bill was a good friend, a kind and wonderful husband, father, grandfather, son-in-law, brother-in-law and uncle. He was a loving man who shared his faith in God and his love of life with all who encountered him. 

He will be remembered by the many stories he shared about his travels across the United States and Europe, and his work as a painting contractor in New York. He will be missed by all who knew him. 

Bill is survived by his wife, Nancy Macnab Proios, son John, his wife Kelly, son Alex, and three grandsons, Ira, Bill and Muhammad. 

May the Good Lord carry his soul forever, and may he rest in peace.

The Three Village area and downtown Port Jefferson were filled with local history buffs Saturday, Sept. 10.

Culper Spy Day, presented by the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in collaboration with more than 30 local historical and cultural organizations, returned in full force for its eighth annual event. Due to COVID-19, organizers hosted a downsized version last year and a virtual presentation in 2020.

The spy day celebrates Gen. George Washington’s spies who operated in Three Village and the surrounding area during the Revolutionary War.

The majority of activities, such as reenactments, readings, docent- and self-guided tours and more, took place on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society headquarters. Other sites included Setauket Neighborhood House, Patriots Rock, Caroline Church and cemetery, Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Setauket Elementary School auditorium, Sherwood-Jayne House, The Long Island Museum and Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum in Port Jefferson.

Mari Irizarry, TVHS director, said she estimated around 1,300 people visited the historical society grounds on Sept. 10.

Margo Arceri, of Tri-Spy Tours, said Irizarry was a huge help spearheading the planning of many of the activities. Arceri said she was grateful for all the volunteers, sponsor Heritage Spy Ring Golf Club and participating organizations, who were not just locally based but from all over Long Island, who made it a success. 

“We’re all telling our part of the Revolutionary story,” she said.

Arceri added she was impressed by the people from all different age groups she met at the event and showed interest in the Culper spies.

“This is not just one age group that enjoys and is attracted to this story,” she said. “It’s really for all ages.”

TVHS historian Beverly Tyler said he also noticed the age range of attendees.

“They were absorbing everything, asking questions and even proudly telling us their connections with ancestors in the Revolutionary War or things they have from the colonial period,” he said.

Tyler said he also saw children fascinated by demonstrations that included writing and mailing a letter in colonial times and hearing stories about youngsters during the era as well as recent local history.

In Port Jeff village, local historians greeted visitors with a tour of the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, a structure that dates back to the 18th century. 

The museum has been relocated twice before finding its way to its current resting place at the intersection of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue. During the Revolution, it was the former home of Phillips Roe, a known member in the Culper Spy Ring.

Mark Sternberg, the spy ring historian at Drowned Meadow Cottage, said he was elated by the day’s success and the public’s degree of interest.

“It has been awesome to have so much new information to share with people, specifically about [Phillips, Nathaniel and John] Roe and their involvement in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “A lot of Port Jeff residents don’t know that Drowned Meadow had such an important role during the Revolution, so the response has been great — and we have had so many people.”

Irizarry said she enjoyed all the organizations taking part in the day to tell their Revolutionary War stories. She added organizations such as Four Harbors Audubon Society discussed making ink from natural products, and Sweetbriar Nature Center representatives talked about birds of prey that existed during the 18th century.

“It wasn’t just talking about the spies and the war, but it was really just talking about life during the 18th century, which is the bigger picture also, which was nice to see,” Irizarry said.

Additional reporting by Raymond Janis.

Cona Elder Law's new office in Port Jefferson

Cona Elder Law, the Melville-based firm focused on elder law, estate planning, estate administration, special needs and health care law, has announced the opening of its new office in Port Jefferson at 41 North Country Road, across from Mather Hospital.

Jennifer B. Cona, Esq.

“With a 20-plus year history in Melville, we are excited to bring our elder law and estate planning firm to Port Jefferson. We want to be available and accessible to our clients, including those in East Setauket, Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point, and Stony Brook, meeting them closer to their homes and businesses,” said Jennifer Cona, Founder and Managing Partner of Cona Elder Law.

The office will be led by Melissa Negrin-Wiener, Senior Partner at the firm, who concentrates in elder law, Medicaid benefits, estate planning, government benefits eligibility, asset protection and special needs planning. 

“As someone who was raised in Smithtown, I am excited to serve my neighbors in our new Port Jefferson office. The attorneys of Cona Elder Law are involved with local organizations and will contribute to the community through educational programs and support of nonprofit groups, as we already do in Melville,” said Negrin-Wiener.

In addition to its main Melville office, Cona Elder Law has an office in midtown Manhattan. For more information, visit www.conaelderlaw.com.

(Left to right) Gavin Barrett, Gabe Zoda, Matthew LaSita, Steve Englebright, Gavin Chambers and Christoff Ulinski. Photo courtesy Englebright’s office

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) joined elected officials, Boy Scouts, troop leaders, families and friends on Monday, Aug. 8, to honor the newest Eagle Scouts of Port Jefferson’s Boy Scouts of America Troop 45.

During the ceremony, Scouts Christoff Ulinski, Gabe Zoda, Gavin Chambers, Gavin Barrett and Matthew LaSita all received the rank of Eagle Scout. The event was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Port Jefferson and led by Scoutmaster Jim Bell. 

“Congratulations to the newest Eagle Scouts of Port Jefferson’s Troop 45,” Englebright said. “In you, we see the future. In you, we see hope. Thank you for setting a splendid example to your fellow scouts and to the community that you are now a leader of.” 

The rank of Eagle is the highest rank that can be bestowed upon a Scout. In order to obtain this rank, a candidate must earn 21 merit badges, complete a community service project and undergo a lengthy review process.

The five Scouts received this prestigious designation after completing their community service projects within the Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station/Terryville communities. 

Ulinski developed and constructed a kayak and canoe oar storage rack at the Village of Port Jefferson’s Centennial Park beach. This structure will allow residents, as well as Port Jefferson Rowing Club members, to safely store their equipment.

Zoda designed, constructed and installed two new benches at the Veterans Memorial Park in the courtyard of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson

Chambers planned, developed and constructed a new exercise path on the grounds of the high school which will be used by students and residents to exercise safely and to enjoy the scenery around the school.

Barrett designed, constructed and installed a replacement fence at the former Bayles House, which is part of the Port Jefferson Free Library. 

LaSita constructed and installed shelving at the Welcome INN Food Kitchen, organized a food drive and oversaw a team that assisted in preparing emergency kits to be handed out to those who use the services offered at the food kitchen.

Alleged suspects were seen driving what appears to be a light-colored sedan. Photos from SCPD

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the people responsible for stealing wallets and cash from unlocked cars in the Sixth Precinct in June.

Two individuals allegedly have been involved in multiple grand larcenies in the Setauket, Terryville, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson areas. The unknown persons allegedly entered the cars and stole wallets containing cash, credit and debit cards, and licenses. They were seen driving what appears to be a light-colored sedan.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

Photo from Facebook/Kevin Wood
Event will feature canine aquatic competitions hosted by Dock Dogs

By Julianne Mosher

The Village of Port Jefferson is bringing a new meaning to the dog days of summer.

The Port Paws Dog Festival is gearing up for  this weekend and it’s going to be dog-gone fun.

Festival organizer Kevin Wood with his dog Brody. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kevin Wood, economic development director for the village and chair of the event, said the event will bring not only lots of business to Port Jeff, but also is an excuse to show some friendly competition for one furry friend to another. “The Dock Dogs competition is open to everyone,” he said while standing next to his 18-month-old English creme retriever, Brody. 

The dogs go tail-to-tail in different exercises — the biggest being retrieving a lure fastest in a 30,000-gallon pool that will be set up at Joe Erland Field, on Caroline Avenue, near the new Barnum Avenue parking lot. 

Wood said he first saw the competition while visiting the East End of Long Island, and soon realized he needed to bring it Down Port. “Port Jefferson is a dog-loving town,” he said. 

The Wood family always had small, lap dogs who they loved — but when they adopted Brody, who loves the water, he thought it would be fun to see how he, and all the other local dogs, would do in a friendly competition. 

“No municipality has done this before,” Wood said. “I wanted to bring it to the next level and bring it to the village.”

Presented by King O’Rourke Auto Group, the three-day event starts on Friday, July 22 with a mini event for non-competitors — a trial event for dogs willing to give it a shot. Dog owners interested in signing up can do so that day for a $20 registration fee, with the event beginning at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., dogs from all over Long Island, and even some flying in internationally, will complete on who can jump the highest, swim the furthest and retrieve a toy in the pool the fastest after jumping and diving off of a dock, to be built on the field, and into the giant pool. 

The inaugural jump will be dedicated to Aida Ramonez, an 11-year-old Port Jefferson resident who passed away earlier this year. She was an avid animal lover who would have loved an event like this, Wood said. 

Throughout the show, Dock Dogs will present the Big Air Wave competition accompanied by an Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve competition for both competitors and spectators to enjoy. The Big Air competition features dogs running down a 40’ dock and diving into a pool of water after an object, in which they are electronically judged for the length of their jump. 

The Extreme Vertical competition is a “high jump” for the dogs as they each lunge to snag a “bumper” suspended in the air. With each grab, the height increases in two-inch increments until only one dog is crowned king. 

Rounding out the action is the newest form of competition known as Speed Retrieve — where the dogs are put on the clock to see how fast they can run down the dock, jump into the water, swim to the end of the pool and retrieve an object which is held by a modified extender arm.

The competitions are open to any and everyone. Teams are made up of one dog and one handler. Your canine must be six months or older to be eligible. Canines of any breed, size or shape are welcomed. Not only is the competition open to all types of canines, but also handlers above the age of seven are welcomed. There is even a “Youth Handler” class for those who are between the ages of seven to 14. 

But Wood said that the weekend-long event won’t just be for games — they decided to turn it into a full-blown festival with dozens of dog-centric vendors, rescues, trainers and some food trucks for their human companions. 

“This is the first time in a long time that something attractive will be at this field,” Wood said, noting that he first brought the idea to the village more than eight months ago before it was officially voted on. 

Mayor Margot Garant, who has a furry friend named Wyatt who will be in attendance, said that the village is excited to host this family event.

“Our dogs are integral members of our family and should be celebrated as such,” she said. “I can’t wait to see everyone there and to enjoy the comradery and competition.”

Tickets are $10 for entry, while children under 12 and dogs are free. Proceeds from the event will help fund the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, with hope to bring new drinking fountains (for humans and dogs) to different locations around the village. 

Wood added that the event will be livestreamed on Facebook, and shuttle buses will be circling all of the parking lots to help bring people to the event. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit portpawsdogfest.com. 

The Bayles Shipyard Band is pictured on the steps of Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel, June 10, 1919. The band performed at ship launchings, Friday night dances, receptions, and costume parties. Source: National Archives

Following America’s entry into World War I, the number of employees at the Bayles Shipyard in Port Jefferson jumped from 250 in November 1917 to 1,022 in January 1919. 

Since many of these workers could not find housing in the village, the United States Shipping Board campaigned to persuade the area’s homeowners to rent rooms to Port Jefferson’s shipbuilders.

A painting by commercial artist Rolf Armstrong was offered as a prize to the villager who did the most to alleviate the housing shortage. Since this and other efforts did not meet much success, the USSB retained architect Alfred C. Bossom to design cottages and dormitories in Port Jefferson for the burgeoning population.

Bossom recognized the urgent need to provide accommodations for the wartime labor force, his numerous commissions including the Remington Apartments high-rise complex built for workers at the Remington Arms munitions factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

To secure a site for Port Jefferson’s housing development, the Bayles Shipyard purchased almost 16 acres of land just west of Barnum Avenue from Catherine Campbell in July 1918. 

Nine detached, one-family homes were designed by Bossom to reflect the character of “old Long Island fishing villages” and erected along Cemetery Avenue, later renamed Liberty Avenue.

Between 1921-23, Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel served as a United States Veterans Training Center. Source: Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Bossom also designed a dormitory unit called the Plant Hotel since it accommodated employees at the Bayles plant. The Mark C. Tredennick Company, which had constructed buildings at the Army’s Camp Upton in Yaphank, was named the general contractor.

Now the site of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, the Plant Hotel included 206 rooms, a cafeteria, powerhouse, athletic field and water purification facilities. A porch connected the three major wings of the complex.

Completed in December 1918 just after the Armistice on Nov. 11, the hotel soon became the center of social life for shipyard workers. A band was formed, a baseball team was organized and dances were held on Friday evenings. 

In April 1919, the Emergency Fleet Corporation commandeered the Bayles Shipyard because of the unsatisfactory progress at the facility. The seized property, which included the Plant Hotel, was then sold to the New York Harbor Dry Dock Corporation.

When the new owners fired hundreds of shipyard workers, the number of boarders at the Plant Hotel dropped dramatically. To compensate for this loss, the hotel began offering rooms to transients by the day or week.

The Port Jefferson Times scolded the hotel’s new clientele for destroying electric bulbs, smashing wash basins, spitting on the floors and generally behaving as if they were hoodlums. 

In December 1920, the NYHDDC shut down the Bayles Shipyard, dismissing all of its workers except for a skeleton crew. Confronted with a virtually empty Plant Hotel, the NYHDDC leased the complex to the Federal Board for Vocational Education, later renamed the United States Veterans Bureau. 

The Plant Hotel, which had been extensively damaged by some departing boarders, was refurbished as a training center charged with teaching disabled soldiers and sailors.

The initial group of 125 veterans arrived at the Plant Hotel in October 1921. During a typical three-month stay, the men prepared for new careers and received medical care. For recreation, they were entertained by theatrical troupes, went on field trips and enjoyed Friday night concerts. 

Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel was still under construction on October 15, 1918. Photograph by Arthur S. Greene, National Archives

Despite pressure from local business groups and politicians, in June 1923 the Veterans Bureau left Port Jefferson as part of a nationwide plan to consolidate its rehabilitation facilities. 

As demobilization continued, local businessman Jacob S. Dreyer purchased the Liberty Avenue cottages, which have changed hands several times over the years and are still standing. In July 1929, taxpayers in the Port Jefferson school district voted to purchase the Plant Hotel itself and the remaining 13 acres.

In subsequent elections, the citizens authorized the board of education to sell some of the hotel’s furnishings, grade the grounds and construct an athletic field on the site. In June 1934, the taxpayers voted to build a high school on the property.

The board of education quickly sold the Plant Hotel to a high bidder for $250. Workers then demolished the building and hauled away the wreckage. 


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.

This Fourth of July, Long Islanders continue to grapple with the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Pixabay photo

Independence Day is upon us. 

As we prepare for Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we keep in mind what this day celebrates: The signing of the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy continually evolves. 

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia into a privileged family supported by the labor of slaves. 

His father was a planter and a surveyor. Jefferson later inherited his father’s land and slaves and began a lifelong project to construct his well-known estate, Monticello. But Jefferson was destined for a higher calling and was thrust into public life, where he would shape the course of American history.

The American revolutionary penman 

Jefferson was a tall young man, but also awkward and reserved. He demonstrated, however, an early penchant for writing, a skill that served him well as he climbed the ranks of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later the Continental Congress. 

Colonial leaders quickly grasped Jefferson’s compositional brilliance, but also observed he said very little. John Adams, who had worked closely with Jefferson in the Continental Congress, once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Jefferson was a man of the written — not spoken — word.

While serving in Congress in 1776, Jefferson captured the spirit of his era and produced the Declaration of Independence, a radical pronouncement of America’s uniqueness from the rest of the world, justifying why it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to break off from Great Britain. 

Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Millennia of human conflict and conquest had emphasized man’s separateness in the eyes of his fellow man. America is the only society in history predicated on the notion of human equality, the only place on Earth that had the audacity to proclaim that humans can harmoniously coexist regardless of their religion or race or ethnic background or any other criterion.

While Jefferson presented Americans this challenge, it is worth noting that he did not embody the ideals of the Declaration in his own life. Jefferson was a slaveholder, his place in society secured by the labor of slaves. 

As we reflect upon the Declaration, it is questionable whether its author even believed in its principles. Despite the conflict between his head and his heart, Jefferson’s words impact us to this day.

Inspiring generations on Long Island

Jefferson’s patriotic fervor was felt undoubtedly here on Long Island. Most notably, the great Long Island patriot William Floyd had joined the revolutionary cause, becoming the only Suffolk County resident to sign the Declaration of Independence. Floyd served in the Suffolk County Militia and was a representative to the Continental Congress. He risked his life and property to resist British authority. 

Setauket native Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is another local hero of the American Revolution. Tallmadge is best known for his reconnaissance efforts, collecting information from the Setauket Culper Spy Ring. 

During a daring raid in 1780, Tallmadge landed near Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a contingent of American soldiers. Undetected, they marched to Smith’s Point, attacked, and took this British supply base at Carmans River and the Great South Bay. Under orders from Gen. George Washington, Tallmadge destroyed large quantities of hay that was stored in Coram.

Floyd and Tallmadge are just two of the many local examples of service and sacrifice that occurred on Long Island during the revolutionary period. These figures fought to form a new nation, a nation that was first articulated by Jefferson.

Tour of Long Island

The first administration of the United States was headquartered in New York City, not far from Long Island. For this reason Jefferson, Washington and James Madison all visited the local area, a place that had sacrificed much and contributed greatly to the independence movement.

Jefferson and Madison traveled extensively throughout New York state and New England, eager to meet their new countrymen. Both leaders stayed in Center Moriches, where they met with Floyd near his estate. All his life, Jefferson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Intrigued by the various Native American dialects and cultures, he met with several tribes in eastern Long Island. 

Jefferson notably encountered the Unkechaug [Patchogue] Indian Nation. Because most of this tribe spoke English, Jefferson successfully transcribed many parts of their language. His research has helped keep alive cultural studies into one of the two remaining Native American groups here on Long Island today.

From Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson

Jefferson’s influence can also be felt through the history of Port Jefferson, formerly known as Drowned Meadow. This now-bustling village was first settled in 1682, located within the heart of Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven. In 1836, the people of Drowned Meadow renamed their community in Jefferson’s honor.

During his address to Congress in 1806, Jefferson highlighted the importance of connecting the United States through infrastructure programs. He said that “new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.” 

Port Jefferson has always been known for the industriousness of its people, as a productive and forward-looking community. Look no further than its shipbuilding history or The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry to see how infrastructure investments from the past keep us connected to this day. 

Port Jefferson is one of 30 towns and counties across the United States that have been named in Jefferson’s honor. Jefferson surely appreciated Long Island — its natural beauty, its indigenous cultures and the local patriots who provided necessary intelligence to gain tactical advantages over the British forces. 

This Fourth of July, as residents and visitors enjoy fireworks shooting above Port Jefferson Harbor, they should remember their own place in history and the figure in history whose name their community bears today. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

File photo by Heidi Sutton/TBR News Media

By Raymond Janis

Members of the Six Acre Park Committee met at Village Hall May 17 to present their vision to the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees.

Rebecca Kassay, trustee liaison to the committee, presented plans for the park located on Highlands Boulevard. 

“The proposal summary is to create a tranquil, arboretum-like setting with a walking path and replace most or all of the existing vegetation with a variety of native tree shrubs and native plantings,” she said. “The park would aim to provide aesthetic and ecological value throughout the year.”

The committee has met once or twice a month since October last year to arrive at its recommendations. The stated goals of the park are to exercise the body and mind, celebrate the beauty of nature and promote multigenerational opportunities for education. 

There is also potential for active use of space along the far west perimeter of the property, which the committee intends to explore in the second phase, according to Kassay.

The committee has used several well-known parks for inspiration: The High Line in New York City, Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton, Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook, Frank Melville Park in Setauket and Central Park in Manhattan. 

“My personal opinion is that I want to see this move forward. I think it’s a place that we need.”

— Mayor Margot Garant

After the presentation, members of the committee had an opportunity to address the board in turn.

“As we see caterpillars transform into butterflies, so will this 6-acre parkland become a tranquil path of arboretum,” Gerard Gang said. “It will be an asset to the development of Upper Port. Its walking paths will be enjoyed by the residents as well as the employees around the park, exercising both the body and the mind.”

Kathleen Riley shared her enthusiasm for the project, saying the park will be an asset to the village, offering residents a place for quiet contemplation and reflection.

“This arboretum will be a great addition to the village,” she said. “With all of the different amenities that the village has and all of the other activities that this arboretum might have, it will be a great addition.” She added that the park will provide “a beautiful place to walk and be invigorated by the magnificence of trees, surrounded by nature” and that it will serve as “a respite so needed in today’s world.”

“It was really a pleasure to be a part of the committee,” Kelly DeVine said. “I think what’s going to emerge out of this process is going to be an attribute for the whole village.” 

DeVine added that the committee’s emphasis on native plants will help to showcase the richness and diversity of native species: “We all love Long Island, we all love how unique it is. We now can have a place where we can really showcase how beautiful Long Island is.” 

At the end of the presentation, Mayor Margot Garant complimented the committee for the thoroughness of its investigation 

“I think you guys did a very thorough job,” she said. “My personal opinion is that I want to see this move forward. I think it’s a place that we need. I know Harborfront Park is an asset, but it’s very active. This I think is a completely different park.” The mayor added, “I’m looking forward to seeing this come to fruition.”

By Raymond Janis

It seemed like an ordinary morning in Port Jeff village.

A thick layer of fog hung above the harbor, leaving the smokestacks of the power plant only partially visible from Main Street. Traffic was normal, businesses were open to the public and pedestrians strolled through the blocks and public spaces as usual. 

Despite the relative calm of the village, the decks of a Port Jefferson ferry boat were anything but normal. From inside the boat, one could hear the shriek of a madman, the sporadic fire of blank rounds, and the scrambling of passengers as they hid for cover.

None of these scenes were real, however. These were drills carried out by the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and part of a tactical defense education program for ferry staff and crew.

Crew members went through multiple rounds of these drills aboard the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport Ferry, Friday, May 13. The training services are designed to educate staff on proper threat mitigation techniques, instructing them how to disarm potentially dangerous individuals in the event of an emergency.

In one training scenario, two crew members successfully ambushed and disarmed the threat on board, above. Photo by Raymond Janis

James McGuire, company security officer and port captain at the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, said the ferry company holds annual defensive training courses to keep staff properly informed and trained.

“We’re doing some security training here just to get our men ready for the upcoming summer season,” he said. “We like to do annual training and the Sheriff’s department is helping us out with that.” He added, “Basically, they’re helping our crew learn defense tactics for potentially unruly passengers.”

Ultimately, if you can’t avoid or deny, then defend yourself. Do whatever you can to stop the threat.”

— Capt. Scott Walsh

Capt. Scott Walsh of the Sheriff’s Office summarized the department’s intent for these demonstrations. In the event of an active threat, crew members are advised to avoid, deny and defend.

“First, avoid if possible and get away from the threat,” he said, “Second, deny the threat access to you — if you’re in a room, then lock the door and do anything you can to deny the threat access.” He added, “Ultimately, if you can’t avoid or deny, then defend yourself. Do whatever you can to stop the threat.”

The guided training between the Sheriff’s Office and ferry personnel lasted over the span of two days. The first day included what the department calls a threat assessment, which included an evaluation of the boat’s layout to identify the proper training strategies. 

“We came here and did some walk-throughs of the ferry with staff to create a plan for any type of emergency scenario,” Walsh said. 

The second day included the tactical training demonstrations. During this program, the staff were guided by department representatives in a variety of formats.

Passengers were instructed to find cover and get to safety, above. Photo by Raymond Janis

“Beyond doing the scenarios and drills, they also did a classroom session with PowerPoints educating them on different types of response techniques,” said a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office. “We’re training everybody on the ferry from top to bottom, from the captain to the first officer, chief engineer and deck hands.” 

In one simulated threat scenario, a man in a hoodie fired blank rounds in the ferry cabin. Crew were instructed first to get any passengers to safety, then to disarm the threat. Hiding behind a locked door, the staff successfully ambushed and disarmed the target, neutralizing the threat on board. 

Andrew Elsalam, deckhand on the ferry, was part of the demonstration. He described his role in the training regimen.

“In this situation, we were instructed to be proactive, to fight and grab anything close to you, like extinguishers and anything that could subdue the target,” he said. “Another crew member and I were behind the door, and as the threat approached my co-worker grabbed the weapon as I grabbed and secured the target, making sure that he was no longer a threat.” 

Elsalam added that training services such as those offered by the Sheriff’s Office give him a sense of confidence when approaching his job. 

“I feel like it’s all about repetition and staying on top of it,” he said. “We do Tuesday drills, such as man overboard, fire emergency and abandoned ship drills. Maybe we can incorporate this into our drills and that way we can become proficient and prepared without having to think twice.”

These training services are available free of charge through the Sheriff’s Office. They are offered for institutions throughout the county that represent a significant public need.

“Sheriff [Errol] Toulon [D] has made it a priority for the Sheriff’s Office to interact and engage with the community,” Walsh said. “The ferry had reached out to us saying that they would like some active threat training, so we were happy to assist with that.”

To learn more about the various programs offered through the Sheriff’s Office, visit www.suffolkcountysheriffsoffice.com.