It was an unusual mutual aid call for Shelter Island firefighters late Saturday night when they were pressed into service to join North Fork departments battling a blaze at the historic Southold First Universalist Church that was totally destroyed.Second Assistant Chief Anthony Reiter led the Shelter Island contingent — 10 firefighters, a chief’s car and an auxiliary van responded, according to Chief Will Anderson.
He speculated that Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade followed by various St. Patrick’s Day festivities that night, may have resulted in a lesser response than is usual from North Fork firefighters. Shelter Island Firefighters were fresh from their own steak dinner at the Heights Firehouse, he said.
Island firefighters arrived sometime after midnight for the fire that apparently started before 11:30 p.m. When they arrived at the blazing church, exhausted North Fork firefighters were glad to get some relief from what had already been a long battle.
“They were a great help,” Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian said about the Shelter Island contingent. They were able to get right into the line and begin working along side her own crew and firefighters who had come from throughout the North Fork to help battle the blaze.
A number of key members of the Southold Fire Department were out of town this weekend, Chief Killian said. She expressed gratitude to all those departments that were able to support the effort. It was obvious that the fire wasn’t going to be put out quickly and that it would take several hours of work to quench it and then stand by to assure that burning embers didn’t flare, she said.
The Islanders remained on the scene until 4:30 a.m., Chief Anderson said.
“It was a large fire,” said Second Assistant Chief Anthony Reiter, who led the Island contingent. “Shelter Island did a great job and we’re always glad to assist,” he said.
The church, one of the East End’s oldest, was reduced to embers and while the fire was not believed to be of a suspicious nature, the Suffolk County Arson Squad is expected at the site today to try to determine the cause, Chief Anderson said.
North Ferry, which typically gears up for emergencies such as ambulance runs, was pressed into service beyond its schedule to bring the firefighters back to the Island. While ambulance runs happen “quite often” during off hours for the ferry, it’s unusual for firefighters to need such services, said North Ferry General Manager Bridg Hunt.