It’s Tuesday evening and the firefighters of the Hook and Ladder Company are arriving at the Maple Avenue firehouse for their monthly meeting. Before heading off to the meeting, many will go down to the basement kitchen where Joe Reardon (aka Joebird) and his assistants are preparing the meal they will eat after the meeting.
Joebird is deftly slicing zucchini for his zucchini, penne and chopped tomato dish. The cold antipasto salad has already been made and the men dip into it with chunks of Italian bread, catching up on family and participating in some good-natured joking. Tonight’s meal will be grilled skirt steak that has been marinating for two days and grilled chicken. There’s store-bought cheesecake for dessert.
Joebird says that because it’s summer he likes grilling. For the Super Bowl, there’s chili; on St. Patrick’s Day, corned beef; in October, sauerbraten made by another firefighter who is an ex-chef; Thanksgiving brings deep-fried turkey, prepared at Joebird’s home.
There are three companies in the Westbury Fire Department, with approximately 50 people in each—Hook and Ladder, originally established 120 years ago in 1897; Hose 1 will be 104 on Sept. 17 and Hose 2 will be 94 on Dec.18. All the firefighters are volunteers with the exception of the dispatchers who stay overnight at the firehouse. When a storm is expected the firefighters will stay overnight so they can be with the trucks if needed. The Westbury Fire Department is one of the busiest in Nassau County, covering 16 square miles and responding to more than 1,800 calls on average per year. The firefighters are notified through pagers or text, with the siren as a backup. When there’s a fire, everyone responds.
“We train on each other’s equipment so each of us can do anything,” said Joebird.
“You’d be surprised as to how many people here are brothers,” said retired fireman Larry Bertan, a former fire truck and fire supply salesman, age 93, who was a volunteer for 71 years and likes to hang out at the firehouse. Bertan’s grandson is a firefighter, as was his twin brother and all his uncles. “It’s a legacy thing,” says Bob Driscoll, a volunteer for 31 years, who is an electrician in Local 3. “Everyone and their kids join.” Joebird, who has put in 37 years and is a carpenter with Nassau County, is a fourth-generation firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
With six-years experience, Carlos Suarez is relatively new to the fire department. Suarez is in the military, having been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and now serving as a career recruiter. “When you leave home and come here,” said Suarez, “this is another home.” There are two female firefighters in Hose 1.
These are the folks who volunteer to keep us safe and they love what they do. And their commitment goes beyond volunteering as firefighters. “The same guys in the fire department are also involved in the community coaching Little League or the Boy Scouts,” said Driscoll. They run an Explorers Club designed for young adults 15 to 21 years of age who are interested in learning about a career in the fire service. In December they dress up in Christmas costumes and bring gifts to the children at Winthrop Hospital and NUMC.
And like most firefighters, they enjoy hanging out with each other, and eating together.
Joebird’s Skirt Steak
This recipe is enough to feed a firehouse, so modify as your own company needs.
1 bottle of Soy Vay Chinese sesame marinade
1/2 cup red wine
1 teaspon each of fresh garlic, basil, oregano, parsely (herbs can be fresh or dried) and beef bouillon
10 pounds of skirt steaks
Make a marinade of sesame soy sauce, chopped fresh garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, beef bouillon and red wine. Marinate the meat covered for two days.
“People usually don’t wait that long,” says Joebird.