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Setauket Fire Department

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By Bob O’Rourk

On my way home in 2001 from a photo assignment, I heard news about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

Within the following hours, the horrific events of 9/11 unfolded. I found myself at the Setauket Fire Department’s Nicolls Road fire station, where members assembled to respond to New York City with help. After assembling equipment and tools, Setauket led several neighboring departments into the city to support the NYFD.

On Monday night, Sept. 11, the memory of 9/11 was preserved by members of the Setauket Fire Department in a ceremony held at the Setauket 9/11 Memorial and led by Setauket Chief of Department Richard Leute. This year, the event was held inside the Nicolls Road Firehouse due to the threat of heavy rain and lightning. 

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years,” Leute said. “Many of us remember that day like it was yesterday. That day changed our lives forever. 2,977 people were killed that day, and many more people have died as a result of sickness or injuries they got as a result of 9/11.” 

Several officials, including New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) and Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, delivered brief statements about that day of infamy. 

Kornreich spoke to the numerous Scouts in attendance, saying, “You won’t find a better example of honor and bravery than the men and women in front of you,” referring to the fire department members. 

Lou Andrade, a retired NYFD and SFD firefighter, gave an unexpected talk about his participation in the 9/11 response efforts. The ceremony then closed with a prayer from Bobby Thompson, after which four wreaths were placed upon the Setauket 9/11 Memorial.

By Sofia Levorchick 

Over 100 junior firefighters across Long Island gathered at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank and Hagerman Fire Department in East Patchogue from Friday, Aug. 25, to Saturday, Aug. 26, for lectures and hands-on training. 

“The event’s goal was to give the juniors some flavor of firefighting and all of the different aspects involved,” said Hank Lewis, a member of the Setauket Fire Department, which sent several junior firefighters aged 14-17 to this two-day program.

One primary objective each junior firefighter agreed upon was the need for collaboration, especially when participating in the hands-on training. “We learned to work with people we never met before,” 15-year-old Sophia Florio said. “The event definitely helped me understand how to work collaboratively.”

There were five stations, all of which involved some level of teamwork: vehicle extrication, forceful entry through doors, ground ladders, entry through windows and search in a blacked-out building. From roping hoses out to stabilizing ladders, each junior firefighter had to work together, even with others they didn’t know.

“It was a little bit more than what we would usually get at a normal training,” 14-year-old Jeremy Walters, captain of the Setauket Junior Firefighters, said.

“And it gave us an opportunity to work with different junior firefighters from other stations,” 15-year-old Katie Urso added.

Abby Walters, 17 years old, spoke of the lessons she learned throughout the training regimen. She noted how the program opened her eyes to the need for close collaboration during a fire rescue event. “If there’s a fire, it’s not a one-man job,” she said.

And with unfamiliar people came unfamiliar techniques, particularly those from new instructors. 

“One of the most important things I learned was being open to learning things in new ways,” Abby Walters added. “We’re used to how our instructors teach things to us in their own way, but you have to get used to the fact that your idea isn’t always going to work, and you’re going to have to have a plan B or plan C.”

“Some of those strategies work better in situations than the previous ones we learned,” Jeremy Walters added.

“It shows that if we were on a call, we would be working with other members from other stations, so it gave us that experience,” Katie explained.

However, each member faced challenges along the way, especially regarding trusting others and taking part in unfamiliar tasks.

“Searching buildings was probably the most difficult part of the training because there are aspects of the buildings that we have not experienced before,” 15-year-old Gavin Plume, first lieutenant of the junior firefighters, said.

Each junior firefighter managed to persevere through these obstacles, though, and felt that the event was rewarding, particularly in terms of what was learned and ultimately taken away from the experience. 

The five junior firefighters all found that becoming acclimated to unfamiliar situations and trusting new people were significant takeaways from this event.

“I valued the opportunity I had to attend this training,” Sophia said. “Although I’ve never met a lot of these kids before, I definitely gained trust from people and learned how to work with them.”

The junior firefighters who participated in the two-day training session were indelibly impacted. With its overall objective to introduce new firefighters to the multifaceted world of firefighting, the event successfully gave them a thorough education that included theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

Overall, this event prepared the junior firefighters to handle emergency responses, emphasizing collaborating with others while accepting new strategies to yield better outcomes. 

“It taught us not to be stuck in the box of what we already know,” Abby Walters added. “We have to venture out and think outside of the box.”

— All photos by Bob O’Rourk

Scott Montefusco, a retired U.S. Marine captain, celebrates atop his 1952 Jeep after completing a cross-country trip from San Francisco to Setauket. Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Scott Montefusco, a retired U.S. Marine captain, concluded his more than two-month cross-country trip last Saturday, July 29, at the Setauket Fire Department on Nicolls Road.

The trip, which began in San Francisco, was completed to raise money for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, an organization created in tribute to New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who died during the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. 

Siller had raced from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers with 60 pounds of gear on his back to help save lives before sacrificing his own.

Montefusco drove his 1952 Korean War Jeep for the entirety of the trip, which he auctioned off at the fire department. He also had a 1973 Winnebago RV follow him from San Francisco, driven by different first responders, veterans and volunteers.

From left, Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa, Scott Montefusco and New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood. Photo by Aidan Johnson

Steven Rizzo, a long-time friend of Montefusco, organized the ceremony at the fire department. During his speech, Rizzo explained what it was like driving the Winnebago behind him while upstate.

“I told him I’ll go up to Albany and give him a hand and drive the RV down to Hudson, and then the next day we drove down to Poughkeepsie. While we were there, we really got to see him in action,” Rizzo said.

“It’s just fantastic. He’s driving it around and in the town with his Jeep, people stop and stare, [and] veterans were saluting,” he added.

Rizzo described how when Montefusco parked his Jeep, a crowd would form around him and would gladly give donations after hearing the reasons behind his trip. The trip raised at least $40,000, according to Rizzo.

Multiple local officials attended the ceremony, with Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) presenting Montefusco with a certificate of appreciation, and New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) presenting him with a citation for his “great work to the state and the country.”

Montefusco also presented a plaque to the Setauket Fire Department in memory of firefighter Frank Bonomo, from Port Jefferson, who died saving lives on 9/11.

During an interview, Montefusco said that he hoped to inspire young people to take more of an interest in their country.

“After 36 years of service, in retirement I’m not going to stop serving,” he said. “I try to inspire young people to maybe step up and serve as a first responder or as a military member.”

He also hoped to inspire others to take greater interest in American history.

Montefusco’s road trip followed the route of later World War I veteran Maj. Horatio Nelson Jackson, who, along with Sewall K. Crocker, were the first people to drive an automobile across the United States in 1903.

Scott Montefusco in his 1952 Korean War Jeep next to his 1973 Winnebago. Photo from Steven Rizzo

By Aidan Johnson

Scott Montefusco, a retired U.S. Marine captain, will be concluding a 65-day cross-country trip in his 1952 Korean War Jeep at the Setauket Fire Department on Nicolls Road on Saturday, July 29, at 2 p.m.

The goal of the trip was to raise awareness for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which was set up in tribute to New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who died during the September 11 attacks, after racing from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers with 60 pounds of gear on his back in order to help save lives.

Montefusco, who grew up in Setauket and now resides in Salt Lake City, started his journey in San Francisco, according to Steve Rizzo, his childhood friend.

Throughout the entire trip, Montefusco has had a motor home follow him that has been driven by different first responders and veterans.

Montefusco will be presenting a plaque to the Setauket Fire Department in honor of fallen FDNY firefighter Frank Bonomo from Port Jefferson.

The Setauket Fire Department invited the community to its annual 9/11 ceremony at its memorial park on Nicolls Road in Setauket Sunday evening.

Volunteers from the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments, below, raised a huge American flag in front of the Nicolls Road firehouse adjacent to the memorial.

Setauket Chief Richard Leute, right center, opened the ceremony that included speakers state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), left center, and Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook).

During the ceremony, Stony Brook and Setauket firefighters along with community members lined up around the memorial pond that contains a piece of steel from the World Trade Center and an artist’s impression of the flag that day. Later, attendees participated in a candle lighting ceremony.

Pass the maple syrup! Join the Setauket Fire Department Auxiliary Department for its annual Pancake Breakfast/Chinese Auction Fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Setauket Fire Department’s Station #2, 9 Arrowhead Lane, East Setauket. Tickets: are $10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 children under 10. Toddlers under age 2 are free. [email protected].

Setauket Fire Department Assistant Chief Charles Regulinski, middle, and Chief Scott Gressin, right, present badge 729 to the Three Village Historical Society President Steve Healy. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Members of the Setauket Fire Department stopped by the Three Village Historical Society’s History Center on North Country Road Nov. 6 for a special presentation.

Setauket Fire Department Assistant Chief Charles Regulinski, second from left, and Chief Scott Gressin, third from right, present badge 729 to the Three Village Historical Society as the society’s president Steve Healy, left, Councilman Jonathan Kornreich, second from left, and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright look on. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The department dedicated badge number 729. The number is associated with the Culper Spy Ring, and the badge is now mounted on a plaque and displayed in the center. The number was assigned by Benjamin Tallmadge, the organizer and leader of the local Revolutionary War spies, to signify Setauket in coded messages.

Historical society board members as well as state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) were also on hand.

Englebright said the awareness of the spy ring, which he called “part of our American fabric,” is growing thanks to the historical society, and he thanked the fire department for helping to spread the word about the Setauket spies for future generations.

Kornreich said the history “is very much alive in our everyday lives,” given examples of local residents who can trace their roots back to Revolutionary times, including the Strongs who can trace their family history back to Anna Strong, a member of the ring.

“That history still lives within the blood of our community,” Kornreich said. “I think that what we’re all here today to recognize is something deeper and much less obvious, which is a spirit and a tradition that exists in Setauket of people who when the time came and the call came stepped up to answer and face danger.”

He added just as the spies faced danger, so do the firefighters who “rush into the flames to make sure we get out.”

Fire Chief Scott Gressin thanked Assistant Chief Charles Regulinski for helping to see the project through. Regulinski read part of the message on the plaque for those in attendance. A replica of the plaque will also hang within the fire department. After a minimum of a year of probation and service, members receive a badge.

Gressin said when he joined the department in 2002, he became aware of the connection between the “729” symbol, which appears on a few of the Setauket Fire Department trucks based out of the department’s headquarters and the spy ring.

“As we moved forward and realized we were going to approach badge 729, we recognized the symbolic connection,” he said. “That number sat on our trucks, and one of our past chiefs had the forethought to set aside that number and not issue it to a member but to reserve it for a ceremony such as this.”

The event kicked off the historical society’s reopening for its museum after being closed to the public due to COVID-19. The Three Village Historical Society will be open for exhibits:
Mondays from 12 to 2 p.m.
Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m.
Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.
Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

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Fire broke out at a Strong's Neck horse complex Sept. 21. Photo from Setauket Fire Department

A fire destroyed a structure at a horse complex at 23 Brewster Lane on Strong’s Neck Tuesday.

Flames broke out around 10 a.m., according to Setauket Fire Department Chief Scott Gressin. The SFD received mutual aid in excess of 16 surrounding departments.

The chief said a 19,000 square-feet structure, that was once used as an interior horse-riding arena, had heaving smoke and fire could be seen coming from multiple sides as firefighters arrived on the scene.

Gressin said the first approach was an offensive one; however, considering the fire load inside of the building, the first responders had to take a defensive approach.

There were no horses in the structure as it has not been used as a riding arena in some time. Gressin said horses in a nearby stable were under no threat. Two firefighters with burns were treated and released from the hospital.

Wednesday morning firefighters and investigators were still at the site.

“It continues to be an active fire scene with a hazardous material incident involving buried propane tanks,” Gressin said. “I have multiple agencies working to mitigate the problem.”

He said the SFD is coordinating with the Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. At this time, he cannot anticipate when the investigation will be completed.

Brookhaven’s Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Mehrman said the origin and cause investigation was concluded Tuesday. He said the reason was human error as an electrical conductor that shouldn’t have been energized was. Two electricians who received electrical shocks were transported to the hospital. Mehrman did not have their present status at press time.

Mehrman said the intensity of the fire caused two 1,000-gallon propane tanks to leak. Even though they are underground, the valving is above. He said HazMat technicians are on the scene to control the flow.

The fire marshal said neighbors are not in any danger because the propane is being burned off which means no gas is accumulating.

History

Margo Arceri, vice president of the Strong’s Neck Civic Association and a local historian, said the Brewster Lane property was originally owned by Selah Strong, who was a New York State Supreme Court justice in the 1800s. His children sold it to the Rawson publishing family.

“It became known as Blueberry Bay Farm, and they raised and sold Black Angus cows,” Arceri said. “At that point, it was the oldest continuously running farm in Suffolk County.”

She remembered the farm and the cows growing up on Strong’s Neck.

“I recall as a child being chased by the bulls on several occasions when a few of them escaped from time to time,” she said.

Arceri said it eventually became Spy Coast Farm where horses, which were world-class hunters and jumpers, were bred. The name was influenced by the Culper Spy Ring activity that took place in the area during the Revolutionary War, according to Arceri.

The farm was eventually sold to a private firm.

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Community members, local legislators and Scouts joined Setauket firefighters to honor those lost on September 11 with a candlelight vigil on the night of the 20th anniversary of the tragic event.

The vigil took place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, adjacent to the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook. Attendees gathered in the park that includes a pond and waterfall. Three pieces of steel from the World Trade Center in the park are featured and were obtained by Setauket Fire Department worker James Hubbard, who worked at the cleanup site.

The 9/11 Memorial Park also includes two trees planted in 2016 that were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center and a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11.

Pictured clockwise from above, three wreaths placed at the memorial during the ceremony; Setauket FD member Corey Gallagher and his son; the Stony Brook Fire Department assisted Setauket FD in raising the flag in front of the Nicolls Road station for the 9/11 Ceremony; fire department members entering the 9/11 memorial site; members wore masks due to the closeness during the ceremony; and Asst. Chief Charles Regulinski, Captain Justin Kinney and Chief Scott Gressin attended the ceremony.

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Setauket firefighters saved a man who accidentally drove into a pond off of Hulse Road. Photo from Setauket Fire Department

By Donna Deedy

A 78-year-old man accidentally drove his four-door sedan straight into the icy waters of a pond off of Hulse Road during the Feb. 1 snowstorm. The driver was quickly rescued when Setauket Fire Department Chief Scott Gressin arrived at the scene at 11:39 a.m., just one minute after receiving a 911 call.

“The man had self-extricated himself from the vehicle,” Gressin said. “I found him on the hood of his car, which was submerged up to where the doors meet the windows.”

The driver was soaking wet, he said, but uninjured. After tossing the man a rope to tie around himself, the chief said the man was safely towed to the pond’s edge with the assistance of other Setauket firemen, who arrived at the scene with floatation devices and water rescue gear.

The accident occurred at Setauket Meadows, a 55-and-over community where the unidentified man lives. After confirming that there were no other passengers in the vehicle, emergency responders took the man to his nearby home, where he changed into dry clothing and refused further medical care.

The chief said that the man was appreciative, but somewhat embarrassed.

“It was a rapid, robust response,” Gressin said. “Fortunately, the department is equipped with specialty ice-and-water rescue apparatus and trained in cold water rescues.”

Setauket Fire Department responds to roughly 3,600 alarms each year. Winter water rescues are rare, Gressin said, but countywide first responders recurrently rescue passengers from sinking vehicles.