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Suffolk County Fire Academy

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

Unsplash photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) and the Suffolk County Fire Academy will jointly host a Firefighters and EMS Recruitment Event on Saturday, July 16 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Avenue in Yaphank.

The five-hour event will feature various vehicle demonstrations and on-site resources for potential future firefighters and emergency medical service members to become familiar with, including a live exercise that will simulate a train-vehicle incident and response. The Long Island Railroad, Brookhaven Fire Department and South County Ambulance will be participating in the demonstration.

Recruitment specialists from Suffolk County will be available to discuss the many benefits available to potential first responders. Representatives from the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing based in Westhampton Beach will also be in attendance for recruitment purposes.  

“In Suffolk County, we are committed to ensuring that our volunteer fire and EMS agencies have the necessary resources to operate and protect our residents. A key component of this includes recruitment. That is why our Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services continues to engage with our departments and communities to provide these important events,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Last year’s inaugural event was a success as more than 125 residents signed up to become a first responder in their local community, and we look forward to achieving the same success this summer.”

“Recruitment and retention events continue to be essential for fire and EMS agencies as we need to continue to engage with our residents and educate those who are interested in becoming a first responder of all the tremendous benefits our local departments and volunteer organizations can provide,” said Suffolk County FRES Commissioner Patrick Beckley. “This summer’s open house will both be interactive and educational, and we encourage residents of all ages to attend.”

The event will also encompass a food drive component as Island Harvest will be on-site to accept non-perishable goods, including canned vegetables, sauces and soups, pasta, beans, rice, personal care and toiletry items and feminine hygiene products. Fire departments and attendees are all encouraged to participate and donate.

This summer’s open house event follows FRES’ first recruitment event in October 2021 where more than 125 prospective firefighters and EMS personnel signed up to become volunteer members with their local departments and agencies. The open house is part of Suffolk County’s comprehensive approach to first responder recruitment, including the Vets to Vollies Program that launched in April 2022.

Candidates who are interested in becoming a first responder, but are not able to attend the recruitment event can go to suffolksbravest.com/volunteernow.  All junior firefighters and educational groups are also invited to attend.

The Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) is committed to serving both the 1.5 million residents of Suffolk County and the more than 11,000 emergency responders who are dedicated to saving lives and protecting property.

Photo from Alice Martin

Alice Martin remembers it like it was yesterday. 

Her husband, a lieutenant in the FDNY’s Rescue 2, left his Miller Place home on Monday afternoon, Sept. 10, for his 24-hour shift in Brooklyn. He was supposed to come home Tuesday night, but he unfortunately never walked back through the door. 

“I left all the lights on in the house,” she said. “I left the front door unlocked because I figured maybe if he gets his way home somehow, he would just come in.” 

The mom of three boys, ages 13, 8 and 6, had just finished dropping them off at the bus stop when the first plane hit the tower on Sept. 11.

“As the day unfolded, and I was watching the news, I realized he could be there because even though he didn’t work in Manhattan, he was in a rescue company,” she said.

But Peter was always fine, Alice thought. “Then by six o’clock, when obviously he never called and then he didn’t come home, it became very real.”

Looking back two decades later, she doesn’t know how she did it. 

“It was beyond horrible,” she said. “But especially as a mom, that’s really the key. I went into mommy gear right away. My kids needed me more than they’ve ever needed me, and I really  needed to keep my head screwed on straight.”

Photo from Alice Martin

Peter C. Martin began his career as an FDNY firefighter in 1979. A native of Valley Stream, he graduated from St. John’s University where he met his future wife. 

“He was good at it and he loved it,” she said. “I think most of them do … It really is a calling.”

A full-time dad, who also worked at the Suffolk County Fire Academy as a teacher, she said her husband was just “a really good guy. A wonderful dad, and a wonderful husband.”

The two were married for 17 years when he passed away.

“It’s strange … I’ve been without him longer than I’ve been with him,” she said. “I never remarried, and my heart still belongs to him.”

According to Alice, Peter was just 43 years old on 9/11 and was among seven that were killed that day in his firehouse.

“I started calling the firehouse in Brooklyn and nobody was answering. My kids started asking questions,” she recalled. “And as the hours were going on, I felt useless because I wanted to do something. So, I actually started calling hospitals that I knew they were taking the wounded to.”

She eventually got a call that her husband was missing and unaccounted for. 

“That’s when neighbors started coming over, people started reaching out to me, which was comforting in some ways and frightening at the same time,” she said. 

Alice said the outpouring amount of love and support she and her boys got from the local community during that time was “wonderful.”

“I can say nothing bad,” she said. “There was just such a generous spirit from the people of Sound Beach, Miller Place and Rocky Point … That whole area, the letters I got from strangers.”

Peter was the only 9/11 victim from Miller Place. 

“I have to say it was a horrible, horrible situation, but it was also — now looking back — just unbelievable, the goodness of people to strangers they never met,” she said.

Along with learning that a community can come together, Alice said she’s learned two other things after that day’s events.

“I believe in the gift of time with finding a new normal and learning how to live,” she said. “I started taking one thing at a time, whether big or small, I just took everything one thing at a time.”

Twenty years later, with her now-grown sons and a grandson who bears Peter’s name, they still talk about him every single day. 

“Now the good thing is any stories that are told, it’s peaceful because we’re not crying, we’re just talking about him,” she said. “You just keep going, and I’m still going.”

Alice said that her husband would be “busting over the moon” knowing that he’s now a grandpa, and that the baby is Peter Charles Martin, the second. 

Photo from Alice Martin

“He’d be so happy to see that these three little boys have become three wonderful men, all doing wonderful things, all living their dreams,” she said. 

And the sons followed in their dad’s footsteps. All three have begun careers helping other people; as a registered nurse, paramedic and licensed Master of Social Work. 

“They’re definitely making a difference in the world,” she added. “He’d be so proud with everything.”

Peter loved snacks and Alice will be reminded of him when she bakes certain things. 

“I don’t believe in closure, but I do believe in the gift of time and the healing that can come with that,” she said. “The hardest part is you have to go through it.”

Rocky Point Fire District paramedic Rob DeSantis; Carol Hawat, EMT supervisor in Rocky Point and Miler Place fire commissioner; firefighter Rob Bentivenga; and district vice chairman Kirk Johnson are thrilled to cut response time and help those in need with the new building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Residents on the west end of Rocky Point no longer have to wait long for urgent medical attention thanks to a new paramedic station right in their backyard.

Rocky Point Fire District’s new first responder building is located at 89 Hallock Landing Road. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District unveiled a newly renovated first responder’s office building July 3, along with an EMS vehicle garage on 89 Hallock Landing Road that will give residents in the area closer access to paramedics, who previously had to travel from the far east end of the district at Shoreham Fire Company 3 to provide for those in emergency situations. John Buchner, chairman of the board of the fire district, was the initiator and prime mover behind this project.

The new location, across the street from the Rocky Point Fire Department, cuts a paramedic’s response time down about five minutes, which could be the difference between life and death, District Vice Chairman Kirk Johnson said.

“If you have chest pains and you can’t breathe, you want somebody there as quickly as possible,” Johnson said, pointing to heavy traffic on Route 25A as a main reason for the delay in response. “We wanted to even out the protection of the district and now we can get the first responder to the front door quicker on the west side of town.”

Rocky Point Fire District’s new paramedic building has a garage to help with the lack of storage, especially for vehicles. Photo by Kevin Redding

Paramedic Rob DeSantis believes it will be a great help to responders and residents alike.

“Driving from Shoreham to here is difficult, and coming from here, we beat all that traffic,” DeSantis said. “Response time has lowered incredibly. Give it four or five months when they do statistics on different responses, you’re going to see a big change in time.”

The paramedic headquarters sits on .92 acres of what had long been a mostly abandoned stretch of property, which includes a 2,000 square foot building previously used as a community church known as the Parish Resource Center, and what were once two rotted buildings seemingly beyond repair.

In March, the fire district bought the entire property, including the buildings, for $250,000, allocating from its capital reserve budget, and got to work to turn the eyesore into a vital part of the community.

Rocky Point Fire District’s new paramedic building will help cut down time when traveling west into Rocky Point. The time saved is crucial to saving lives. Photo by Kevin Redding

Starting May 5, firefighter and go-to maintenance man Rob Bentivegna renovated the roofs, gave new paint jobs and transformed the termite-infested remains of one of the buildings into an administrative paramedic office stocked with a kitchenette and lounge area. Out of the other building he set up a maintenance facility for repair needs. The new, expansive garage on the property will help with the fire district’s lack of storage space for its vehicles. As for the church, members of the district hope to utilize its basement for fire and EMS training classes in addition to the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank, as well as meetings with neighboring departments and town associations.

“We have had a lot of compliments from a lot of the community — they’re like ‘oh, it’s great what you guys have done,’” Johnson said. “People hear the fire department bought this property, and figure it’ll just level everything and put a bunch of fire trucks there, but no, it’s part of the community.”