After 25 years as a Shelter Island Fire Commissioner and 67 years as a firefighter, Andy Steinmuller is retiring — as a commissioner, that is.
He’ll still be functioning as a fire police officer directing traffic so there are no tie-ups for firefighters answering emergency calls. But his days of attacking fires are over.
That’s a job for a younger man, he said during a recent interview at his Manwaring Road home.
“I’ve had enough,” he said about his decision to resign now, just six months before his five-year term as a commissioner ends.
He let his fellow commissioners know now so they can appoint someone to the post who will have the advantage of being elected to a full five-year term in December, Mr. Steinmuller said.
He’s suggested a couple of names to his colleagues, but thinks they have their own ideas about who should fill the post.
The fire department veteran is concerned about a future that might not be very far off — maybe two or three years, he said — when Shelter Island will have to give up its volunteer fire department and hire professionals.
Being a firefighter has always been a tough, time-consuming job, Mr. Steinmuller said, but the demands of training today make it that much more difficult. When he came on, training was largely on the job.
Now firefighters and EMTs have to put in long hours going to classes, often up-Island. It’s not just at the beginning of their service, but volunteers must continue to train in new methods, he said. Even if young firefighters can find the time to train, they’re often working off-Island, so they can respond to only a limited number of calls, he said.
For Mr. Steinmuller, firefighting was always in his blood, starting as a volunteer in Bethpage, becoming chief of the department there and instituting an EMT squad. He also functioned as an EMT trainer for several fire departments. When he moved to Shelter Island he joined the Fire Department.
What attracted Mr. Steinmuller to originally run for commissioner was ongoing discussions about merging the Heights and Center departments. He promised, if elected, that he would dedicate his energy to bringing about that merger. In the mid 1990s, he led the effort to make it happen, he said, and saved the taxpayers money.
Another initiative he’s proud of is seeing water tanks installed around the Island. While the town may be surrounded by water, getting a supply to fight a blaze isn’t always easy. But having tanks in critical areas has helped to solve that problem.
He remembers major fires he helped fight on the Island — one in Dering Harbor on a freezing winter night when he and his fellow firefighters were challenged to get enough water to contain the inferno. He also responded to the Belle Crest Inn Fire in February 2013 that did heavy damage to that structure.
Now that he’s stepped down as a commissioner, he said he’s lucky to have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren on the Island, with a seventh great granddaughter due in November. He figures that will keep him busy.