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Sound Beach Fire Department

Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

On Friday, Oct. 22, the Sound Beach Fire Department welcomed the community for a Fire Prevention Open House for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the open house, members of the community were given tours of the vehicles and equipment, got to use a real fire hose, and sat for a viewing of “Surviving the Fire,” a fire safety video produced by the SBFD that tells the story of a local family who barely escaped their house fire in 2015. 

The open house concluded with a live burn demo to demonstrate the importance of keeping your door shut when you sleep to keep the smoke and fire out.

Commissioner Jeff Vlack, Chairman John Romonoski, Vice Chairman Richard McKay, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, Commissioner James McLoughlin, Chief Darran Handshaw, Ex-Chief Michael Rosaco, First Asstistant Chief William Rosasco, and Second Asstistant Chief Alex Riley. Photo from Sarah Anker

On Saturday, Sept. 4, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) attended the Sound Beach Fire Department’s Annual Fire District Inspection and Installation Dinner at East Wind Long Island in Wading River. 

Anker joined the Sound Beach Fire Department members in honoring the newly installed incoming officers as well as other department members for their many years of dedicated service, including Erica Elisseou and Cheyenne Enlund for five years; Dede Zenz, Kevin Creedon, Ex-Captain James Hudson, Captain James McLoughlin and Chief Darran Handshaw for 10 years; Ex-Captain Joseph Luise for 15 years; Ex-Chief Thomas Sternberg and Ex-Chief Michael Rosasco for 20 years; John Marino and Ex-Captain Daryl Blasberg for 25 years; John Hoffmann, Joseph Russo and Anthony Russo for 30 years; Ex-Captain John Curtin and Ex-Chief Edward Sullivan for 35 years; and Philip Alaimo III for 50 years. 

Members of the Auxiliary Company were also recognized for their years of dedicated service, including Maureen Strauch for 25 years; Ann Moran for 30 years; Denise Hellberg for 40 years; and Patty Pulick for 50 years. 

 “It was an honor to attend this year’s annual inspection and installation dinner and to have the opportunity to recognize members of the department and the Auxiliary Company for their many years and decades of dedicated service,” Anker said. “I want to thank the all the members of the Sound Beach Fire Department and the Auxiliary Company for their continued and courageous service to the community during a challenging and unprecedented year.”

The Sound Beach Fire Department has been providing emergency services to the residents of Sound Beach for 91 years.

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Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

Dozens of people came together to remember September 11, 2001 last week at the Sound Beach Fire Department’s annual 9/11 memorial.

On Saturday morning, 20 years to the day of the attacks, local first responders lined up to pay their respects to victims and their families.

A bell was rung 13 times in memory of those lost.

This article was updated to resolve previously published mistakes.

Photo by Nicole Waldemar

Zebra Tech employees, who are also first responders, gathered on Friday, Sept. 10 at 9:45 a.m. to remember their fellow service members who lost their lives during September 11, 2001.

During the event, Zebra Emergency Response Team members came in uniform, including Scout Master Jeff Weissman, Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Darran Handshaw, Terryville Fire Department Ex-Captain Martin Sebel, Rocky Point Fire Department firefighter David Singer, Middle Island Fire Department Ex-Chief Craig Tunjian, and Sayville Community Ambulance 2nd Assistant Chief Liz White.

Weissman spoke about how his scout troop worked with Symbol (now part of Zebra Tech) employees at the building to gather 180,000 bottles of water that were trucked into Ground Zero to support the rescue and recovery efforts.

Photo by Sabrina Artusa

By Sabrina Artusa

Sound Beach Civic Association dedicates itself to the betterment of the locality and the well-being of its citizens. So, as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated, members knew they needed to find a way to thank the frontline and essential workers who were risking their own health to keep others safe.

The civic initiated a fundraiser by collecting recipes and creating a cookbook, “Signature Dishes of Sound Beach and Beyond.” The cookbook was sold in order to fund this tribute.

The unexpected free services, such as the delivery of the tribute stone and the stone itself, resulted in extra money from the fundraiser, money which the civic decided to donate to the Yaphank veterans home.

On Saturday, July 31, in perfect weather, Sound Beach residents and others gathered on the lawn outside Hartlin Inn. The area was packed with firefighters, police officers, grocery store attendants, delivery workers, health care workers, school board members, government workers, Girl Scouts and  citizens who wanted to express their gratitude. Also in attendance were county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Stuart Vincent, Mather Hospital public relations director.

Bea Ruberto, president of the civic association, stood at the stand in the center of the lawn to explain the tribute, but not before residents and friends pointed out it was her birthday. After the group sang “happy birthday” and the laughs had stopped, Ruberto explained the purpose of the tribute, which was inscribed on the stone: “Honoring the heroes all around us.”

After thanking her board, she commended government — “our public servants” — who have “been critical in getting us to where we are today.” New York state has one the lowest coronavirus positivity rates in the country, a feat Ruberto said could not have happened without their persistence and sacrifice.

She continued by honoring law enforcement, health care workers and educators. “Educators had to work harder to provide quality education,” she said. Susan Sullivan, president of the Rocky Point school board, confirmed that “nothing was business as usual.”

Sound Beach Fire Department chief, Darran Handshaw, talked of his experience from the past year and a half. “We were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a century,” he said.

Just as citizens struggled to adjust to life in a pandemic, firefighters had to adjust their protocols to combat the virus threat. “Our emergency response protocols were never designed to deal with it,” Handshaw said. “It was a very nerve-racking time.”

Chad Lennon, special assistant/veteran affairs with state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), said “there was no time out, no pause in life.” He expressed his gratitude for health care workers and recognized their continuous efforts. “The new [Delta] variant that is spreading in 2021 continues to pose new challenges for them,” he said.

Handshaw said of the tribute, “I think it’s great.  … It’s very nice that the community decided to recognize us.”

The stone, framed by blooming flowers, American flags and a new tree, displayed its message toward the road. “We wanted as many people as possible to see it,” Ruberto said.

Commanding officer of the 7th Precinct, Inspector Matthew McCormick, started in his post just as the pandemic raged in March 2020. “It was a tough time for law enforcement,” he said, and went on to tell of how 17 officers had to quarantine for two weeks. Law enforcement coped well with the pandemic, but McCormick gave credit to Sound Beach residents. “We are only as good as our community,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed in the handout the civic had prepared with the meaningful words, “Working together we accomplish more.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Whether it is nurses taking care of COVID-19 patients, or Stop & Shop supermarket employees providing food for their community, the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce felt it was only appropriate to gather residents to salute frontline heroes and essential workers last Saturday.

“To all of our essential workers, and to all who have helped our community in the midst of this difficult time, thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Gary Pollakusky, president of RPSB chamber. “You’ve helped keep things together, and now life is returning back to normal.”

A leader in the pandemic has been Stony Brook University Hospital. The doctors, nurses and physicians have spent countless hours volunteering their time, playing a pivotal role to help stop the spread. 

Carol Gomes, chief executive officer and chief operating officer at SBU Hospital, credits her team as the overall backbone in response to COVID-19 in Suffolk County — which has had the lowest mortality rate across the downstate region. 

“We have weathered an incredibly difficult storm, but our health care heroes rose to the occasion, not once, but twice during surges and continue to do so every day as the pandemic still does continue,” Gomes said.

Photo by Kimberly Brown

According to the hospital, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 200,000 Suffolk County residents have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 3,000 have lost their lives. 

“We grieve with the families that have experienced loss but, as more people become fully vaccinated, we remain hopeful for brighter tomorrows,” she added.

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also made an appearance at the event to express his gratitude toward the frontline heroes and essential workers. 

According to Palumbo, during the pandemic, government officials were able to continue working using Zoom. However, firefighters and police officers did not have that same option, making them true frontline heroes.

“You had to suit up and go into the belly of the beast, so when we use the phrase ‘frontlines,’ a military phrase, you were all absolutely the tip of the spear,” he said.

The ceremony concluded with a car caravan past the honorees through Rocky Point to Rocky Point Funeral Home.

Members from the Sound Beach Fire Department held their annual Memorial Day service. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Gone, but never forgotten.

In light of Memorial Day Monday, May 31, the Sound Beach Fire Department held their annual service to remember and mourn the losses of all the men and women who died in the name of freedom. 

Chief Darran Handshaw said the department also uses the day to remember their brothers and sisters who are no longer here.  

“Over the years, many organizations use this day, as we do, to remember and honor their own deceased members,” he said, addressing the crowd. “So today, the members of the Sound Beach Fire Department and our families, in our own way, observe Memorial Day.”

Handshaw added that this is the department’s 91st year. They wanted to remember and pay homage the members who helped build the foundation of the department that has been around for almost a century.

During the hour-long event, a dozen people sat inside the firehouse, as they listened to members read the names of nearly 50 people who impacted the department in one way or another. 

Eight-year-old Rocky Point Cub Scout Mason Ulscheimer kicked off the event with the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Family members of the deceased people came up to the podium to say the names of their loved ones, and tears were shed as the department’s honor roll was recited. 

“We all should reflect on the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and on those who die for those freedoms,” said Second Assistant Chief Alex Riley. “To any families of our fallen heroes who are here today, we say, ‘Thank you.’ We owe them and their loved ones our heartfelt gratitude and so much more.”

The event ended with Handshaw, Riley and First Assistant Chief Bill Rosasco placing a wreath at the department’s 9/11 memorial.

Members of the Sound Beach Fire Department, like Captain Greg Ferraro, give blood in memory of one of their own. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Almost five years after his death, an ex-captain of the Sound Beach Fire Department’s memory is still helping to save others. 

Jim Ford passed away on June 2016 after serving in the department for more than two decades. A beloved member of not only the department, but also within the Sound Beach community, Ford always was there to help. His wife, Nancy, still participates and volunteers with the auxiliary.

“Jim filled many shoes out of the office and in the office,” said Bill Rosasco, first assistant chief. “He loved it. He loved doing it. He loved being here at the firehouse.”

On top of his many roles, he founded and ran the department’s January blood drive, so it was only fitting to name it after him in 2018 — the first drive after his passing.

And on Saturday, Jan. 16, his memory was brought back at the firehouse at 152 Sound Beach Blvd., getting people together for something good. 

Ever since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, blood donations have been at an all-time low, according to the New York Blood Center. Schools, businesses and community centers halted blood drives early on, in fear of too many gatherings and the uneasiness of the virus. 

Sound Beach Fire Departmen’ts ex-captain, Jim Ford, who passed away nearly five years ago, is still making an impact at the fire house with an annual blood drive in his name. Photo from Stefanie Handshaw

The Sound Beach Fire Department usually hosts two blood drives in honor of their own. January is dedicated to Ford, while July memorializes Ex-Capt. John Drews Jr. But because of the pandemic, the July drive was canceled. 

The drive this past weekend was the first since the pandemic began.

“We wanted to still run this blood drive,” said Chief Darran Handshaw. “Even though we shut the department down for all the other meetings, we still wanted to do this because we know how important it is.”

Handshaw said that everyone on the board wanted to make sure the January drive went on, despite the department shutdown. 

“This is an emergency,” he added. “We need to get blood out there.”

He said that to make this month’s blood drive work, they took precautions including temperature monitoring, social distancing and a fogger machine that can decontaminate the room before the event and after. 

But the drive wouldn’t be happening without Ford’s spirit. 

“This would be something that Captain Ford would be here helping out with, even during [the pandemic],” Handshaw said. “It’s an honorable effort for an honorable man, so we’re going to do something honorable that serves the community for him and his death.”

Saturday’s event had more than 20 appointments, a dozen walk-ins and 31 pints of blood were collected, according to Margaret DeTurris, president of the department. Each pint of blood can help up to three people — so these 31 pints will impact 93 lives. 

“Jim was a great example  of wisdom and honor,” Handshaw said. “In my eyes, that inspired a lot of us to behave well and do the right thing for the community. He’s missed every day.” 

The Sound Beach Fire Department is actively seeking volunteers to serve as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The department provides free training for those positions. To join contact the chief’s office at 631-744-2294.

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The Wading River Fire Department building on North Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local fire departments are gearing up for their annual commissioner elections, and most districts in the local area, save Wading River, are looking at uncontested races.

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

TBR News Media reached out to the local fire departments to talk to the commissioner candidates. Candidates talked about how COVID-19 has caused budgetary concerns, and along with current ongoing projects, how they try to recruit new members during a time of a pandemic.

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai Fire District

The Mount Sinai Fire District is holding an election Dec. 8 for a five-year commissioner seat. Incumbent Joseph Tacopina is running uncontested for a seat he’s held since 2002.

Tacopina said in a phone interview he has been with the Mount Sinai Fire Department for 35 years. Since he’s been commissioner, he said the board has worked to keep the percentage yearly tax increase below the New York State tax cap. Still, the district’s five-year plan does not include any big-ticket items, he said, and instead focuses on things like replacing the boiler in the main firehouse and other capital improvements.

“We’ve been streamlining processes through the department, but there are budgetary constraints based on COVID, so some of the projects we were looking to do are minimal in scope,” he said.

The pandemic has brought forth a host of new costs to the district, things that they previously wouldn’t have had to pay for. Tacopina said there were costs associated with sanitizing the firehouse and firefighter equipment, and they have had to spend much more on cleaning supplies and other PPE. At certain points, the district had to close the building to nonessential service for small time periods because of positive infections among volunteers or staff. It has also made recruitment for volunteer-starved departments like Mount Sinai that much harder.

“All these additional costs are not budgeted — we have to spend on sanitizing equipment so we can have our members respond without infecting everybody,” he said.

The election is set for Dec. 8  at the main firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road from 6 to 9 p.m. The district is also asking residents to vote on a proposition that would make it so an active member can become a participant of the service award program at age 17, instead of 18. The annual cost of the program would increase from $265,200, or $2,160 per participant, to $288,400, or $2,060 per participant.

Tacopina said the district is attempting to allow younger people in their youth programs to become active members sooner to allow them earlier access to firefighter training. Currently young members must turn 18 before joining such training, which usually only allows them a small period for which to train and then work on trucks. Doing this would allow firefighter training for the summer before, so once they turn 18 they’re already ready to become full-fledged members.

“This way before they go to college, we have them for that summer as well,” the commissioner said.

Miller Place Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Miller Place Fire District

Miller Place has one commissioner term up for election. Incumbent commissioner Larry Fischer is seeking another five-year term starting Jan. 1 next year. 

Fischer, a 31-year member of the department, has served five terms on the board of fire commissioners. It’s been a long road, though the ongoing pandemic has led to a host of new challenges. 

He said the department has been mostly shut down for all non-call and emergency response activities. The department has had to greatly limit the number of training sessions, which along with limitations at fire school, has limited the availability of new recruits to get the training they need.

Still, the important thing, Fischer said, is that they’re still answering calls, which even before the pandemic, close to 70% of calls were for EMS. Like other districts, the pandemic has put an added cost on the district from having to purchase PPE and sanitizing equipment. Just this past week, the department hosted both rapid and the three-day COVID-19 tests for department members.

“We want to make sure our members are safe, especially our EMTs” he said. “I salute the EMTs who are really on the front lines of this.” 

Within the past year or so, the district updated their 20-year-old phone system. Though they had applied for a grant in 2019, the department ended up having to pay out of pocket, and that equipment was finally delivered at the beginning of this year.

Though the commissioner is hope for a return to something resembling normal next spring and summer following the release of a vaccine, that will not be the end to issues in the area. He shared his concern for the ongoing opioid crisis, which data has shown has only been accentuated because of the pandemic. He hopes that they can be allowed to go back in schools sometime in the near future to provide some training and awareness for students related to opioids.

The election is held at the main firehouse at 12 Miller Place Road Dec. 8 from 4 to 9 p.m.

Sound Beach Fire District headquarters at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. Photo from Google Maps

Sound Beach Fire District

The Sound Beach Fire District is hosting its election for a five-year commissioner seat. Incumbent Richard McKay is running for his seat unopposed.

McKay was appointed three years ago to finish the term of a previous commissioner who vacated his position. With several decades of experience as both a firefighter and EMT, he previously served as a commissioner for another department and said he originally did not expect to be elected again.

“I told them I’ll try it out for the year, but we did really well — all the commissioners play nicely in the sandbox — so now I’m running for a full term,” he said.

He said the main purpose of the district and commissioners is to maintain service without putting the onus on taxpayers. Last year Sound Beach residents voted to approve a $2.9 million bond to complete repairs and work at the main firehouse that hasn’t seen work in years. Most of the work is repairs and maintenance, McKay said. Repairs and fixes include a makeover of the parking lot, new epoxy floor finishing in the ambulance bays and apparatus room, sprinkler and fire alarm system replacements and window replacements on both floors. 

“The floors inside the firehouse are crumbling and in one part of the building a wall has a crack in it,” he said. “Almost every window leaks.” 

While the district has made budgets that have gone under the state tax cap for the past several years, this is the first time they will pierce the tax cap due to paying off the bond.

The other big issue the district faces is a lack of volunteers, McKay said. It’s especially hard nowadays to get people to dedicate the necessary amount of time for both training and to be on call.

The election is set for Dec. 8 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. from 2 to 9 p.m.

The Rocky Point Fire Department building in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rocky Point Fire District

Rocky Point is hosting its election Dec. 8 to elect a commissioner to a five-year term. Incumbent commissioner John Buchner is running unopposed.

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

The election is set for Dec. 8 at the district building at the Shoreham firehouse, located at 49 Route 25A, between 3 and 9 p.m.

The contested fire commissioner race in Wading River is set for a vote Dec. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

Wading River Fire District

Wading River remains one of the few contested elections for commissioner this year. The seat is for a five-year term starting Jan. 1, 2021, and ending Dec. 31, 2025. 

Incumbent commissioner of 15 years Jim Meier is facing off against previous commissioner Tim Deveny.

Meier, a third-generation firefighter and 41-year member of the department, said he is running again to continue the work they are doing in upgrading equipment and boost declining membership. He also boasted there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the department, meaning they have maintained a continuity of service throughout the pandemic.

“It’s all about the safety and the financial end,” he said. “We have a board that’s working together well right now.”

He said the district has purchased two ambulances and a new ladder truck in the last two years using capital funds without having to rely on other financial institutions. He also boasted about other grants the district has received in the past several years, including a $200,000 grant for radio systems in 2015. 

“With all that saving we can purchase new rigs to keep us going,” he said.

The station 2 firehouse on Hulse Landing Road has been closed for nearly two years now, saying the chief of department originally closed it for mold issues, among other building problems, and they “haven’t been able to reopen it.” That building is now being used for storage, save for a single emergency vehicle, while apparatus and equipment that was housed there has been moved to the main firehouse along North Country Road. Members that used to report to the second firehouse now respond to the main one.

The biggest issue, Meier said, is a lack of enough volunteers to man that station. He said despite additional travel time for some members to get to the station, the move has actually improved response time, as with a single alarm, instead of people responding to two separate houses, more people are available right next to the necessary equipment.

“Most people from that end [of Wading River] were getting older or moving out,” Meier said. “As bad as it is to have the station closed, it’s helped our response time.”

Deveny, a 23-year member and past commissioner from 2004 to 2014, said he is running again because of the issue with the station 2 firehouse, which he said was a major disruption in service to the eastern portion of the Wading River hamlet.

“Public safety — that’s what it’s all about,” Deveny said. “In this day and age when EMS calls are escalating, you take away from the people on the east end?”

He disagreed with the current board saying there are not enough volunteers to staff the station 2 building, saying that as he has worked there, they had 16 people who responded there and were “locked out” in February of last year. He said problems such as the mold issue have already been rectified, and some volunteers taking the trek to the main firehouse has meant a drive time of 10 minutes or more. He added people on his side of town “still don’t know they closed that station down.”

“I’m so angry I can eat glass,” he said. “You can’t put a price on human life.”

The candidate also criticized the district for piercing the state tax cap two years in a row, saying the district needs to work on its financial situation. He said the department did not require a ladder truck when other nearby departments could provide such equipment in a pinch, adding there were no large houses in Wading River that would require that apparatus.

The election is set for the main firehouse located at 1503 N. Country Road, Dec. 8 between 2 and 9 p.m.