John D’Amato was the chief the Shelter Island Fire Department needed at the time two years ago. Will Anderson III, 46, said.
And Mr. Anderson hopes he’s the chief the department needs now.
Chief D’Amato will be formally passing the torch to his second in command at the April 21 Fire Commissioners meeting. The man who has been first assistant chief throughout Mr. D’Amato’s term is primed to assume the responsibility for the next two years.
Mr. Anderson joined the fire department in 1992 and except for a six-year hiatus during which he and his family were living out of state, he has been a local firefighter ever since.
Noting that his father, William Anderson Jr. has been active in the community through his church, the Shelter Island Historical Society and the Water Advisory Committee, the son wanted his own way “to give back,” he said.
“I got a kick out of big trucks and fires,” Mr. Anderson said about his attraction to the demands of the department. “I’ve tried to quantify why I do it and I can’t.”
“I’ve been around the world and I haven’t found a better place to be,” he said about his decision to settle on Shelter Island.
In his years back on the Island, he said he hasn’t seen any chief be more hands on than Chief D’Amato. But unlike his soon-to-be predecessor, who is retired, Mr. Anderson still works full time at Anderson Plumbing & Heating. That will require delegating more responsibilities with his other chiefs, officers and department members.
He sees that as a positive since he wants younger firefighters to realize “it’s their department.” When it comes to choosing new trucks and equipment, he wants to hear from them about what they need and then leave it to the Board of Fire Commissioners to determine what they can afford. It will be those younger members using the trucks and other equipment for a longer time, so it’s important that they be invested in what’s selected, Mr. Anderson said.
While he’s aware of the demands of the job he’s about to assume, he credits his wife Mary with a lot of the heavy lifting at home. Even as first assistant chief, he said there are about four months of the year when department demands and his job give him few hours at home. When he is home, he’s usually sleeping, he said.
Among the challenges he’ll face will be the need to start replacing aged trucks and upgrading the communications system. There are three vehicles that are closing in on two decades of service. Mr. Anderson knows he’s talking about more than $1 million to replace them. That clearly won’t happen all at once.
But at $400,000 to $500,000 per vehicle, it has to start happening, he said. The technology was different when those aged trucks were first brought on line. To refit them to meet today’s standards would be almost as expensive as replacing them.
As for the communications system, he knows he’s facing more than simply adding an antenna to a tower to cut out dead zones. As Southold and Suffolk County convert from low band to high band, Shelter Island, which depends on the two for dispatching and mutual aide, will have no choice but to convert. That won’t be cheap, Mr. Anderson said.
Shelter Island, like all the volunteer departments, faces challenges in having enough members. But the incoming chief said while there’s always a concern, younger members have been joining and despite the many hours of training and demands of the job, he’s not worried about having filling slots.
As for safety concerns raised by John Beresky in his two unsuccessful efforts to wrest a commissioner’s seat from an incumbent, Mr. Anderson said he believes Shelter Island is as safe as any department can be and is among “the better trained fire departments on the East End.”
At the same time, he said he backed Mr. Beresky’s run not because he had any beef with the incumbents, but because he believes competition is always positive.
“The commissioners are no more imperfect than I am,” Mr. Anderson said, pointing out that they, like the firefighters, work without compensation and do their jobs because “their hearts are in the right place.” Someday, he may want to join their ranks, but for the moment, he’s looking forward to the challenges in what he anticipates will be “a tough two years.”