“It’s a great honor getting the award from the fire department,” Tim King said after being named Saturday night as the Top Responder by his colleagues in the Shelter Island Fire Department.
It was at the department’s Installation Dinner at the Pridwin, where Chief Anthony Reiter was sworn in for a second term. Earl Reiter became first assistant chief and Brian Lechmanski was again named second assistant chief.
Charlie Beckwith and Judy Sherman were each honored for 50 years of service — he as a firefighter and she as a member of the auxiliary, which all volunteers agreed is vital to the overall operation of the department.
Emily Hallman was recognized for her 25 years of service to the auxiliary.
The chiefs decided to change things this year by naming a Top Responder instead of a Firefighter of the Year.
It likely amounts to the same thing since the Top Responder is the firefighter who answers more emergency calls than any of his colleagues and, therefore, probably gives the most service to the department and the community.
Just how many calls did Mr. King answer in the past year? He’s not sure. But Chief Anthony Reiter has the numbers and said Mr. King responded to 93 calls, more than 90 percent of all the calls received in the past year.
“Whether it is two in the morning or two in the afternoon, Tim is on the truck willing to help,” Chief Reiter said. “Job well done. We in the department take great pride to help each other and this great community we live in.”
Always good to go
Mr. King works at Coecles Harbor Marina & Boatyard. But when he hears the call alerting him to an emergency, he drops whatever he’s doing and races to the station ready to support his fellow volunteers.
A former department chief serving in that role in 1999 and 2000, Mr. King knows the importance of having a full contingent of firefighters on any scene that could turn out to be major.
In 2015, he was part of the relief crew from Shelter Island who relieved exhausted firefighters battling a blaze that destroyed the Southold First Universalist Church. The following year, he joined Island firefighters assisting in battling an early morning blaze that heavily damaged the iconic Sag Harbor Cinema and a number of surrounding businesses.
At 51, Mr. King defies those who suggest that more than half the Island’s firefighters are aging out. He describes himself as much too young to even think about retirement from either the department or his job.
But for a man who followed his father and brother into the department when he graduated from Shelter Island High School, Mr. King said it was “one of those things I always wanted to do. I like those shiny red trucks,” he joked.
When he first joined, most training was done on the job, unlike today when firefighters not only have initial training, but must take ongoing course work to continue to be department members. Some courses can be done online, but for much of the training, he joins his colleagues in driving up to Yaphank for evening training.
What’s new and a positive change, is the quality of the equipment firefighters use today, Mr. King said. Describing it as “top of the line,” he said the equipment is both more effective and contributes to firefighters’ safety.
His children are grown and live upstate in the Syracuse area and his girlfriend, Roberta Cooke, is very patient with the hours he devotes to the department, he said, understanding how important it is to him.
Lives of service
As has been the case with many firefighters, Mr. Beckwith joined the department at the urging of a friend after he completed his military service and returned to the Island in December 1967. By the following May, he joined because, “I like volunteering.”
He’s likely best known to Islanders for his years managing the Shelter Island Country Club. But he also worked at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club and for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.
“There are a lot of good people,” he said about his fire department colleagues.
For Ms. Sherman, it’s been a long, family affair. Her mother and grandmother were auxiliary members and her grandfather, father, husband and son have been department members. But the auxiliary isn’t just for those who have relatives who are firefighters, Ms. Sherman said. Anyone who wants to get involved in helping is welcome.
“On the Island, you choose what you want to get involved with,” she said. “The auxiliary is a great bunch of women.”
Emily Hallman had left the Island and lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for awhile. But 25 years ago, she returned “home” to Shelter Island and her first stop was an auxiliary meeting.
Her father was a firefighter. Her grandfather was a chief of the Heights Fire Department before it merged with the Center Fire Department in the 1990s.
She has enjoyed baking for Fire Department events and helping to organize the Easter Egg hunt among many other activities.
Chief Reiter said he appreciates all those who attended the annual dinner and he congratulated his fellow chiefs. He also thanked Supervisor Gary Gerth for attending and swearing in the chiefs.