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Setauket Fire Department

Terryville EMS members, including, from left, Lauren Maloney, Andrew Hoyt, Tom Fauteux, Daniel Ortiz, Jacob Parrish and Gina Brett. Photo by Kyle Barr

If we are to keep using war terms to describe the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, calling nurses and doctors “soldiers” who are “on the front lines,” whose personal protective equipment are like “tools” or “weapons” in the fight against COVID-19, then the Emergency Medical service members, whether paid or volunteer, truly are the ones who make first contact with the enemy.

Joe DiBernardo, President of the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, donates masks to Kyle Matura of the Miller Place FD. Photo from DiBernardo

Though members of local EMS services said they don’t know exactly how to feel about that terminology. If anything, it’s the unknown of every situation that makes the whole thought stick.

“Every patient is a risk,” said Daniel Ortiz, an EMS member of the Terryville Fire Department. “That’s where I guess they say it’s a war zone, because you don’t know what you’re walking into.”

EMS members from all over the North Shore have experienced a heavy time of stress during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, though as the number of cases seems to have plateaued as New York enters the middle of April, these service members, both paid and volunteer, are still asking people to continue their social distancing, as we’re not out of the woods yet.

The emergency service members said they have been wearing much more gear than normal, including masks, head coverings, face shields and eye protection. Every single call they go on is in this gear, since every case is now treated like a COVID-19 situation, despite what might have been said by the caller on the phone.

“We trained for this, and I can honestly say this is the first time in 10 years that I’ve seen anybody suit up other than your annual refresher,” said Terryville member of the EMS squad Andrew Hoyt.

While the Terryville Fire District only covers about eight square miles, the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps. covers nearly 15 square miles, dipping into both the Huntington and Smithtown townships. 

Joseph Vollers, the 3rd assistant chief of the Commack corps., said they have been helping neighboring districts with their call volumes, including Brentwood, which has been a particularly large hotspot for coronavirus cases. With that, they have gone from one to two full crews with a driver and EMT available at all times. Terryville has effectively done the same, moving from one to two ambulances available.

“It’s a pretty big area we have to cover,” Vollers said.

Other fire districts increased the load and numbers of EMTs and paramedics on a shift. The extra hard part has been decontamination, as now after every call both the people on the truck and the truck itself have to be cleaned from top to bottom. 

If the job was stressful before, the understanding that one might be potentially taking the virus home with them after each stress only adds to the level of concern. Most agreed they had never seen anything at this scale. While EMS members knew they had to be aware of contractible diseases, such as tuberculosis, flu, scabies or even bed bugs, the pandemic levels of how far the virus has spread, every single person is approached as if they have SARS-CoV-2. 

David Sterne, the Setauket Fire District Manager, said there were five cases of COVID-19 in the department, with more staying home with suspected cases. Though as of now, four of those cases have returned to work. In Terryville, they’ve had two cases out of the 15 paid paramedic staff and 25 volunteer EMTs.

“It’s stressful for a lot of reasons,” Sterne said. “We’re in their environment where there could be infectious viral loads. If a patient is sick, it could be 10 or 15 minutes to take them to the hospital … everyone fears bringing it home to their families and loved ones.”

Sterne added the district has had to make do with a lack of certain items, such as the coveted N95 masks for their medical personnel. New policy has been these masks, which are normally only supposed to be used once and then thrown away, have been used multiple times. Setauket FD had been concerned at several points with limited supplies, but with support from Suffolk County, Sterne said they are now in a relatively good spot.

But support for the fire departments are coming from all corners and some unexpected places. On Wednesday, April 15, retired FDNY Deputy Chief Joe DiBernardo, who is president of the Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, worked with y Fire Hooks Unlimited, a company that manufactures tools and supplies for firefighters and police, to deliver 100 N95 masks to the Miller Place Fire Department and 200 to the Setauket Fire Department.

Joe DiBernardo, president of the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, center, donates masks to the Setauket Fire Department. Photo from DiBernardo

The memorial foundation is for DiBernardo’s son, Joe DiBernardo, who was injured in the line of duty during a tenement fire in 2005. He died as a result from his injuries in 2011. The foundation works to train and equip firefighters in need.

Now the districts have settled into the routine and have seen a small improvement in the number of calls from mid-to-late March, where the number of coronavirus deaths started to rise with startling speed. 

With suspected coronavirus patients, it wasn’t so much the usual dealing with people having injuries or back and abdominal pains, it was instead situations where a person might desperately need oxygen. While the numbers of people with heart attacks and other sudden traumas have stayed the same, EMT staff said people calling for respiratory issues tripled in the month of March.

Other, more usual calls of non-life threatening injuries dropped off significantly. EMTs said this was largely because people did not want to go to the hospital where the possibility of viral infection was that much higher.

“I think there’s people afraid to go to the hospital,” said Gina Brett, the Terryville EMS coordinator. “They say, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital for knee pain, because I might get very sick at the hospital.’”

District officials said that despite the load, they’ve managed.

“Overall it hasn’t been exceedingly stressful where we can’t function,” Vollers said. “Our crews have been amazing at overcoming all stresses, with 2, 3, 4 calls back-to-back, they’ve done a great job.”

Despite the stress, the service members agreed their communities have been excellent in their care and even compassion. The Commack Fire Department, for example, recently held a drive where community members donated over 500 items, both nonperishable food and medical supplies. 

Otherwise, EMTs said the best thing for people to do is continue social distancing to help flatten the curve. Another suggestion is after calling 911, people should meet the EMTs and paramedics outside the home in order to best reduce first responders’ interaction with anything that may be contaminated. 

“It is an incredibly long time to have that level of awareness and vigilance,” said paramedic Dr. Lauren Moloney, an associate medical director for the Stony Brook University paramedic program. “God knows how long it’s going to go on for. That’s the hardest thing — trying to find what is your date you’re trying to get through.”

This article was amended April 16 to amend the nature of Fire Hooks Unlimited’s operations.

This article was amended April 17 to correct the name of the Commack volunteer ambulance corps.

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Pentimento in Stony Brook Village Center is offering 50 percent off meals for hospital and EMT workers in the Three Village area. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Three Village residents, business owners and community leaders are finding ways to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chuyu Liu, co-principal of the Center for Chinese Learning at Stony Brook, left, and Shaorui Li of the Long Island Chinese American Association, right, present masks to Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District. Photo by Chang Duan

While Stony Brook University was chosen by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for a drive-through testing center for the virus, along with an external facility for extra beds at the campus, other help has been provided in the area.

The Three Village Civic Association has been emailing members with any updates it receives to ensure residents are informed. In a March 23 email to members, civic association President Jonathan Kornreich wrote of “countless acts of kindness and compassion, large and small” in the community.

Among those acts have been the Della Pietra family creating a community challenge to raise $500,000 for Stony Brook University Hospital. According to SBU’s website, the family is pledging a $250,000 dollar-for-dollar match. The funds raised will go toward critical supplies and treatments at the hospital. At press time, the challenge had nearly 650 supporters donating more than $330,000.

Kornreich said in the email he also noticed residents doing good things in small ways.

“Even in supermarkets I’ve seen people sharing and taking a moment to show some kindness to stressed-out neighbors,” he said.

The civic association also announced that the Three Village Central School District consolidated its food pantries into one location at the North Country Administration Center in Stony Brook. Those who need to access the pantry, or would like to donate, can call Anita Garcia at 631-730-4010. As always, nonperishables and toiletries will be accepted, and gift cards for supermarkets and gas stations are also needed. Civic association volunteers picked up bags of donated items for the food pantry March 25 from residents and have pledged to do so as long as necessary.

Extra steps to help out SFD

The Long Island Chinese American Association donated 120 KN95 masks to the Setauket Fire District last week.

In a March 16 Facebook message, the fire department asked residents to let dispatchers know if there is anyone in their home who is under quarantine when calling to report a house fire. The information will allow responders to ensure they have the proper protective equipment.

Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District, said first responders are in the same position as the health care industry when it comes to the shortage of personal protective equipment.

“We are in unprecedented times with the way we are using and reusing all types of PPE and any donations we receive are very much appreciated,” he said.

Sterne said the district was grateful for the Long Island Chinese American Association’s donation as well as some masks from resident Mark Andrews.

Emma Clark library stays connected with community

While Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is closed until further notice due the ongoing pandemic, it still has numerous services to offer the community. The library announced in a press release Monday it will offer remote technology help for patrons who need to set up communication options like FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts. They can also help remotely with office applications, web browsers, Roku and Fire Stick devices and with general support with mobile devices, phones, tablets and laptops.

Cardholders can send an email to [email protected] and include their library barcode number and phone number.  A library employee will call back to schedule one-on-one telephone help.

For those who don’t have a library card, the library is also providing temporary digital cards that will allow them to access some of Emma Clark’s online resources including OverDrive and Hoopla for eBooks, eAudiobooks, movies and music. Also, temporary digital cardholders will be able to access databases and the classes in Learning Express. People can go to www.emmaclark.org and find “Get a Library Card” at the bottom of the page to sign up.

Library director, Ted Gutmann, said in an email it’s important for the library to stay in touch with the community.

“A big part of what the library does at all time is connect people with information, with resources, with help, with each other,” he said. “Our virtual time with a tech service is just one example of how the library is reaching out to the community in this period of social distancing, when it’s so easy to feel disconnected and unsure about things.  We’re asking our patrons to come to us like they always have. It may not be face-to-face, but it’s still person-to-person.”

The director added when residents use the library’s Time with a Tech service they will be speaking with the library’s technology librarian or IT manager, or “real people, real voices — not some anonymous ‘someone will get back to you.’ I think this is reassuring, and I hope many of our patrons will feel that way too.”  

Businesses adapt to new climate

Many business owners are coming up with new ideas in order to stay open. One option many dance schools and martial arts studios have taken is creating videos and making them available online for their students.

Nick Panebianco from Alchemy Martial Arts and Fitness of East Setauket last week spent two days working practically nonstop creating 40 videos to put on his school’s website. He said it was something he was thinking about for a couple of months but didn’t get a chance to do, and he knew now was the time to create the online lessons.

The studio owner said during the pandemic he knows children will be spending more time with their families. In the videos, he shows parents how to use everyday items such as oven mitts and pillows to help with a student’s practice.

“I basically teach the parents how to teach the kids,” he said.

Panebianco added that he goes over drills that he normally does in classes and points out ways to adapt to different body types. At press time, he already had 50 subscribers made up of current and former students. He has extended the invitation to watch the videos to community members too. The service is free and can be accessed by going to the studio’s website and signing up.

“It’s pretty cool so far,” he said. “People are sending me videos of their kids working with them. I’m very excited right now. I want to keep adding to it.”

With students currently out of class, he said he feels it’s important to keep them active instead of looking at their mobile devices all day, adding that the videos can also be helpful in general for those who can’t afford or don’t have time to do a full class at the martial arts studio.

As for the Three Village community, the Port Jefferson Station resident said he’s seen many businesses coming up with creative ideas.

“People are adapting fast,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

Lisa Cusumano, co-owner and general manager of Pentimento restaurant in Stony Brook Village Center said even though the restaurant had to lay off most of its staff, they are still providing curbside pickup and delivery to those who are homebound.

Cusumano said they are also offering 50 percent off meals for all hospital and EMT workers in the Three Village area who show an ID as they realize these community members are on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

“We’re trying to do anything to help,”
she said.

Cusumano said when she first heard of the coronavirus she bought more cleaning supplies than usual, and the staff cleaned more regularly than average starting weeks ago, even wiping menus after each use.

She said the restaurant, which has been in business for 26 years, is taking it day by day and as long as they have the ability to open they will.

“As long as we have products and people working, we’ll take care of the community as best as we can,” Cusumano said.

We would love to hear about what readers are seeing in our community. Let us know about residents or business owners who are dealing with COVID-19 pandemic in innovative ways or helping out their neighbors by emailing [email protected]

Setauket Fire Department Headquarters. File photo.
Billy Williams will be the next Setauket Fire Comissioner. Photo provided by Billy Williams

Changes are coming to the Setauket Fire District board.

On Dec. 10, insurance agent and volunteer firefighter Billy Williams unseated incumbent Kevin Yoos for the commissioner seat, 479-219.

During his campaign, Williams addressed financial matters and the need to keep the department volunteer based. The newly elected fire commissioner and others have said morale in the department has dipped after last year’s decision to change paid fire coordinators to paid firefighter positions. Last year the district approved three salaried firefighters, along with one more this year.

Williams said it felt all the hard work of campaigning was worth it when he saw the voter turnout. Involved in the Kiwanis Club and the local chamber of commerce, he added he felt many voted who didn’t vote in the past.

He said working on the morale in the department is at the forefront of his mind.

“It had a big bump yesterday,” he said. “I got a 150 to 200 texts from department members and other people.”

Williams said once he takes his seat, he’ll look at everything, especially when it comes to financial matters, and “do what’s right by the taxpayer.”

The new commissioner will take his seat Jan. 1, 2020, and will serve a five-year term.

 

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Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Residents of New York’s 1st Congressional District took time out of their busy schedules Aug. 20 to sit down with their congressman to discuss what’s on their minds.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held mobile office hours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street Tuesday. Constituents were invited to sit down, either one-on-one or in groups, with Zeldin or one of his staff members.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, meets with constituents at the Setauket Fire Department on Main Street. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

While many declined to discuss their specific questions, other residents waiting to speak to Zeldin said they were prepared to bring up issues such as background checks when buying guns, how to curb easy accessibility to assault-style rifles, Medicare, providing for veterans, immigration, health care for preexisting conditions and mandated vaccinations. One attendee wanted to know whether or not Zeldin is in favor of slashing the payroll tax and, if so, what other methods would he suggest to fund Medicare and Social Security.

Among the 71 who attended, several parents had their children in tow to provide them an example of civic engagement.

Sarah, 13, daughter of former Setauket congressional candidate Dave Calone, said this was the first chance she had to speak to an elected official about an issue.

“I wanted to talk with him about gun control,” she said while waiting to get an opportunity to speak with Zeldin. “I wanted to ask him about what measures the government is taking to ensure students are safe in school and other places as well.”

Kathleen Thornton, of Stony Brook, was with her son Jack.

“I thought it was good for him to get a sense of how government works,” the mother said.

The Stony Brook resident wanted to talk to Zeldin about the Excelsior Scholarship Program in New York and the income cutoff. She said the Excelsior funds also were not released until the initial payments to State University of New York schools were due, adding she only discovered issues with the scholarship program while helping her niece with her financial aid forms. While waiting to meet with the congressman, she said she hoped that he would know the right people to connect with to address her issues with the program.

Barbara Kantz, of East Setauket, who waited around two hours to meet with Zeldin, said she came to him with advocacy issues related to the environment and was satisfied with the strategies Zeldin offered, including those she can use as a citizen. She said to him that she knows he is an environmentalist, and she wanted to know how, as a congressman, he translates that to action programs “when we’re living in a time when science is somewhat dismissed, and we have an EPA that actually doesn’t believe in some of the notions of what an EPA should do.”

Three Village resident George Henik, before his meeting with Zeldin, said he would like to get a time frame from him about specific indictments.

“Why is [former FBI Director James] Comey still walking around and writing books and not in prison?” he asked.

Henik said he believes many have used the Congress as their weapon of choice and that some politicians, such as U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, both Democrats, are out of control.

His wife Susan Henik said she also had questions for the congressman including concerns about voter fraud, especially on the federal level.

The couple were optimistic about meeting with the congressman and felt they were addressing issues that people from both parties are concerned about, such as justice and voter fraud.

“These two questions that we have, or topics of discussions that we brought up, no one would want their election being tampered with, no one wants a coup of the president,” Susan Henik said.

According to a press release from Zeldin’s office, those interested in participating in a future meeting, including after work or during the weekend, can call 631-289-1097.

Firefighters battle a kitchen fire at Mario's restaurant in East Setauket that traveled into the ceiling. Photo by Donna Deedy
Firefighters battle a kitchen fire at Mario’s restaurant in East Setauket that traveled into the ceiling. Photo by Donna Deedy

In the early morning hours of July 30, members of the Setauket Fire Department along with firefighters from surrounding companies battled a kitchen grease fire at Mario’s restaurant in East Setauket.

Lou Lasser IV of Mario’s said no one was in the restaurant when the fire, which spread to the ceiling, broke out.

Due to the heat, tents were set up in the adjoining parking lot to keep the first responders cool.

The restaurant is closed until further notice.

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The Setauket Fire Department’s Engine Company #1 firehouse is officially up and running.

Hundreds of residents, along with Setauket fire commissioners, legislators and volunteer firefighters, both local and neighboring, were on hand to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the renovated firehouse on the corner of Main Street and Old Town Road June 23.

Jay Gardiner, fire commissioner and chairman of the board, said the department has been serving the community for 108 years.

“Today we mark a milestone in that history as the beautiful new building you see in front of you is a reaffirmation of our commitment to this community, as well as a symbol of the dedication we have to the mission of the Setauket Fire Department, which is to ensure the protection of life and property to our residents,” Gardiner said.

The Setauket Fire Department, which also includes stations on Arrowhead Lane and Nicolls Road, has nearly 200 volunteers, career staff and support personnel who serve an estimated 95,000 people during the day and 26,000 residents in the evening, Gardiner said.

The fire district, which has its headquarters at Hulse Road, also covers Stony Brook University and its hospital in an about 28-square-mile area.

The fire commissioner said the new 23,000-square-foot Main Street facility includes solar heated water, LED lighting, energy recovery ventilation heating/cooling system, a large meeting room, training room and bunk rooms for overnight crews, while the entire building is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

“This structure is modern, yet it maintains the historical integrity of our building, complete with the brickwork matching the original building which faces 25A,” he said.

The original southeast corner that was once an asphalt parking lot, he said, is now a green space “to enjoy the view of the historical center of our town.” Gardiner said the fire department hopes the large glacial erratic rock that now sits on the green space will become a new landmark, and he joked that it was a “custom import” found during the excavation of the property.

Among those who spoke before the ribbon cutting was Paul Rodier, chief of department, who thanked the members and their families for their support, especially those who belong to Engine Company #1.

“You guys went without a building for about three years,” he said. “A lot of cold nights to stand by with no heat, plastic chairs.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) complimented the fire district for reaching out to the community when it came to renovating and adding on to the building.

“This is a triumph,” Englebright said. “What we’re really looking at is protection and security for our community that deserves both. We are looking at a monument to the creative cooperation between our civics and our fire service. This is in the heart of a historic district, so I really want to salute the fire department and fire district for working to make sure that the essence of this place, this place of Setauket, is reflected in the architecture and in the materials that this building is constructed of. Well done and thank you.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) were also in attendance to present the fire department with proclamations.

“Today we’re looking at a building that some people said, ‘Well, it costs a lot of money,’ but 50 years from now we’ll look back and say what a wise decision was made to invest in a building that provides fire services and ambulance services to all the people in the Setauket area,” Romaine said.

After the speeches, William Engels, a 50-year veteran, cut the ribbon surrounded by his fellow firefighters, and the new alarm was sounded. The Setauket Elementary School band also performed during the event, and residents were invited to tour the new facility and to discuss volunteer opportunities with firefighters.

To view more photos from the event, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

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Firefighters battle a fire at Brookhaven Cat Hospital Oct. 7. Photo by Dennis Whittam

By Bob O’Rourk

The Setauket Fire Department tackled a challenging rescue Oct. 5, and just two days later, fought a significant fire during the evening of Oct. 7.

Setauket firefighters rescue a driver from a dump truck that crashed into a large tree on Pond Path. Photo by Bob O’Rourk

On Oct. 5 at 2:08 p.m., the department was called to rescue the driver of a dump truck that crashed into a large tree on Pond Path near Robert Crescent in Setauket, crushing the side of the driver compartment and pinning the motorist under the dash. Both of the fire department’s heavy rescue crews combined to finally release the victim after an hour of work to free his legs from the steering column and dashboard, which had collapsed into him.

With the truck lodged firmly against a 12-inch diameter tree, and the driver’s legs pinned, medical attention was given while he was in the cab and continued until he was freed. He was alert throughout most of the hour he was pinned in the truck.

The truck and driver were part of a crew of contractors, operating for PSEG, who were clearing the power lines along a private driveway that extends from Pond Path for more than 300 feet. The newly paved driveway has some sharp falloffs in several areas. One of those drop-offs apparently caused the truck to veer into two robust trees.

The fire department responded with two heavy rescue trucks and a pumper as well as numerous medical personnel and an ambulance. During the time the driver was pinned, he received a number of injections to relieve pain. Once he was freed, he was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for further medical care.

Suffolk County Police Department Emergency Service also responded and aided with hydraulic tools to supplement those used by Setauket Fire Department personnel.

Firefighters battle a fire at Brookhaven Cat Hospital Oct. 7. Photo by Dennis Whittam

On Oct. 7 at 7:28 p.m., the department was called to a fire at the Brookhaven Cat Hospital at 60 Route 25A in Setauket. The fire was significant and inside a building with many rooms. Two other businesses also occupied the building.

The fire was reported via an automatic alarm. The first responders noticed significant smoke coming from the building and called in the signal for an actual fire which evoked mutual aid from Stony Brook, Port Jefferson, Centereach, Terryville, St James and Selden fire departments, as well as Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Nesconset and Port Jefferson ambulances.

Heavy fire was encountered upon entry to the building. It took firefighters more than two hours to bring the fire under control. There was significant damage to the roof as well as the interior spaces. The SCPD Arson Squad and Town of Brookhaven fire marshal were called to determine the cause, which at this point is still under investigation.

The fire was contained to the cat hospital areas in the building. According to the business owner, three cats were inside. Two were found deceased, and the third one is unaccounted for at this time. One firefighter suffered a minor injury from heat exhaustion and was transported to a local hospital.

On Aug. 23, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook hosted a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament with local fire departments, including Setauket, Centereach and Selden, competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems,” which are personal escape kits, for fire departments in need all over the country.

The winners of the $1,000 prize money were members of New York City Fire Department’s Watkins Station Engine 231/Ladder 120 — Darren Fenton, Patrick Tulley, Connor Norman and Anthony Edrehi. The tournament winners and John-Paul Sabbagh, from the Terryville Fire Department who won the event’s 50/50 raffle, donated their winnings back to the foundation.

The event cost $20 to enter, and the tournament was judged by John Tsunis, owner of the hotel; Joe DiBernardo Sr.; and Leah Dunaief, publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media. Dan Keller from Stony Brook University’s athletics department served as referee.

Tsunis said the hotel hopes to make the tournament an annual event, adding, “It was a lot of fun to have all the firefighters there and all the community members we recruited to play.”

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Volunteers with the Setauket Fire Department respond to a fire in Poquott Aug. 16. Photo by Bob O'Rourk

The Setauket Fire Department was called to a two-story home on Singingwood Lane in the Village of Poquott at 10:31 p.m Aug. 16, according to Setauket Fired Department public information officer Bob O’Rourk.

Half of the rear deck was fully involved and almost spread to the inside of the house, O’Rourk said. Quick action by the fire department kept flames from getting past several rafters and inside of the structure. As a result, any serious damage inside was prevented.

Firefighters checked the deck roof as well as the house roof for any fire extension. Interior walls were also checked to ascertain that no fire damage reached the interior.

The Stony Brook and Terryville fire departments also responded for mutual aid. Town of Brookhaven fire marshals were on scene to determine the cause of the fire. Results of that investigation are pending.

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An Aug. 23 volleyball tournament will help raise funds to buy bailout systems for firefighters through the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. DiBernardo, right, is pictured with his father Joseph DiBernardo Sr., left. File photo

Local firefighters are training to serve up some fun and to help members of firehouses around the country.

On Aug. 23, a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament will be held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook with fire departments competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems” for fire departments who lack the vital equipment. The personal escape kits are used when rescue workers find themselves in fires that are difficult to escape, like when they are a few floors up, a building collapses or there is a backdraft.

Joseph DiBernardo after recovering from shattering both his feet and breaking bones below his waist. File photo

Tanya Lee, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said she came up with the idea for the fundraiser when DiBernardo’s father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., stopped by the hotel to book a workshop. Lee, who is a volunteer with the Centereach Fire Department along with her son, said she was looking for a way the hotel could give back to the community and saw DiBernardo’s visit as a sign. She said she discovered while talking to him that many fire departments in the country don’t have the funds to pay for bailout systems and the training required to use them, which together can cost up to $1,000 per firefighter depending on the manufacturer.

“It was kind of like that ‘Aha’ moment,” Lee said. “Like he walked right in when I was looking to do something for the community.”

DiBernardo Jr., who was a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, was one of three New York City Fire Department firefighters injured during a tenement fire in the Bronx in 2005. Three firefighters also died in the blaze, and the tragedy was called “Black Sunday.” During the fire, DiBernardo Jr. helped his fellow firefighter Jeff Cool escape the building using a rope and then secured it to a child safety guard to lower himself from a window. The rope broke, and DiBernardo Jr. fell four stories, breaking practically every bone from his waist down and shattering both feet. During his recovery in the hospital, he suffered respiratory arrest and
developed pneumonia. While DiBernardo retired as a firefighter due to his injuries, he traveled the country and assisted in safety trainings for firefighters despite the physical pain he continued to suffer, according to his father. In 2011, the firefighter died from the injuries he sustained in the 2005 Bronx fire. In 2013, the DiBernardo family, members of the Setauket Fire Department and Cool established the foundation.

“We decided to [start] the foundation, so no other firefighter would have to die due to lack of personal safety ropes,” DiBernardo Sr. said.

Lee said the 4-on-4 tournament will consist of eight teams that will compete in a 15-point game until one team is left standing. For teams that are eliminated earlier in the tournament and for spectators, there will be a Cornhole toss, raffles, food and beverages. Attendees who stay overnight at the hotel will also receive a discount on their room.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers,” Lee said.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers.”

— Tanya Lee

So far there are five teams consisting of firefighters set to participate — FDNY, Hicksville, Jericho, Selden and Centereach. Kevin Yoos, fire commissioner with the Setauket Fire District and vice president of the foundation, said volunteers in Setauket are currently organizing a team. Lee said there will also be a team consisting of Gold Coast Bank employees.

The tournament was one that John Tsunis, the owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said he was on board from the moment he heard about it. The hotel donated $1,000 to the tournament, and it will be awarded to the winning team, according to the hotel owner. Tsunis, who is also CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said he believes in giving back to the community the hotel serves.

“We’re not big hotels in Las Vegas or international banks in New York City,” Tsunis said. “We’re neighbors and friends, and we work together, and we live together.”

DiBernardo Sr., who is a retired FDNY firefighter, said his son wanted to fight fires since he was a kid. He would play with fire trucks as a child, and when he was a bit older, would visit his father at work at his station house in Brooklyn.

When he was 18, DiBernardo Jr. became a fire alarm dispatcher on Long Island, and the next year he became a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, according to his father. During his tenure with the department, he became a lieutenant and captain. In 1993, DiBernardo Jr. became an FDNY fire alarm dispatcher, and in 1995, his dream of becoming a firefighter in the city was achieved.

“That’s what he always wanted,” the father said. “It’s nice to see your son achieve his dreams.”

The father said he was touched when he heard about the volleyball tournament and the $1,000 donation.

“Someone would care in the community to do something for us like that … it’s fantastic,” he said.

The Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook is located at 3131 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook. Entry donation is $20 for players and spectators and includes food and beverages. For more details about the event, contact Tanya Lee at 631-471-8000. Or visit www.facebook.com/HIExpressSB/ for a link to sign up. For more information on the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, visit www.joeydfoundation.org.