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Island Profile: Anthony Reiter,keeping alive a Shelter Island Fire Department tradition

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO New Shelter Island Fire Department Chief Anthony Reiter at the Center firehouse.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO New Shelter Island Fire Department Chief Anthony Reiter at the Center firehouse.

The nephew, son, and grandson of volunteer firemen, when Anthony Reiter is sworn in as chief of the Shelter Island Fire Department on April 24 it will be a proud moment.

Anthony’s proudest moment as a firefighter came a little over two years ago, when on March 14, 2015, a fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. at Southold’s First Universalist Church. “We were the knights in shining armor for that one,” he said. “I called the Southold chief and said ‘I’ve got a full crew ready to go.’ She said, ‘Get your butts over here.’”

Minutes later the Shelter Island firefighters showed up to spell exhausted crews from Southold and Cutchogue who had been battling the enormous blaze.

Anthony spent his earliest years on Shelter Island, but by the time he was school age he moved upstate to Cooperstown with his mother, Lisa Parietti, spending holidays and summers with his father, Robert Reiter, on the Island. Cooperstown in the fall and winter was so rural that the Island seemed like a city by comparison, he said. One of his first — and worst — paying jobs was cleaning the cow stalls at a friend’s farm.

After high school, Anthony went to trade school in New Hampshire, where he studied heavy equipment and crane operations. He worked for Farrell Building Company, a large construction firm on the South Fork for several years and now works on the Island for Marcello Masonry, where he’s an excavator operator.

Although he divided his time growing up between upstate and the Island, his family relationships here are strong and so is his connection to the life of a volunteer firefighter.

Anthony’s grandfather Robert (Bob) Reiter is the owner of the Bob’s Seafood Market, an Island institution, which he runs with Anthony’s grandmother Kolina. Anthony’s admiration for his grandparents is evident. “My grandfather is as strong as a bull,” he said. “They are hardworking, old fashioned people.”

Anthony’s uncles Earl and Jeff Reiter also live on the Island. The family has already had one Shelter Island Fire Chief, when Earl headed the department.

Anthony has his own children now: Lucas, 6, and Anthony, 2. His fiancé, Crystal Steinmuller, is a Shelter Islander, born and raised, and although Anthony went to Shelter Island High School for a couple of years, the couple didn’t meet until he moved back full-time in 2004.

When they finally noticed each other, it was all over for Anthony. “I knew,” Anthony said. “It was love at first sight.”

Anthony and Crystal are building a house on Menantic Road for their growing family and planning a full-blown wedding celebration in November. “This is the dream day,” he said. “The Poconos. We’re taking the whole family.”

Anthony credits former Chief John D’Amato with helping him develop from firefighter to fire chief. “He groomed me through the chiefs ranks from my beginnings,” Anthony said. “He’s a very good leader.”

His new responsibilities as chief amount to a full-time job on top of his job with Marcello. He has the additional, self-imposed task of addressing some challenges the Shelter Island Fire Department has faced — a lack of volunteers and tensions among members. “We’ve had a bumpy road the last couple of years,” he said.

When Anthony joined the department, his training group at the Suffolk Country Fire Academy included nine men from the Island, one of the largest groups to go through the Academy together from one department. But today only two or three from that group are still active in the department. “Now is when we really need them. We have 60 members and half of them are over 55,” Anthony said. “This is a younger person’s profession.”

Housing on the Island is a major part of the problem. “I had a few members who had to move off-Island because they can’t afford to stay. Great guys, good families, but they simply can’t afford Shelter Island,” he said. “If you can’t live here, what are you going to do?”

He would like to see more women involved with the department and not only with the Ladies Auxiliary, “I would like to get more women to be firefighters because they can do the same job.”

The benefits to the public of having a volunteer fire department are significant, he said. “Our response time is half of what other departments are. Some guys are so devoted, they try to get there before anyone else.”

But if the first responders find a significant fire, a call must go to Greenport or Sag Harbor for back-up, and it takes 15 or 20 minutes for them to get here and “a lot can happen in 15 minutes,” he said.

Looking forward Anthony senses a need to bring some of the department’s practices into the future, making more extensive use of email and new technology in firefighting. “I had cameras installed [at the fire house] because we had people playing with the trucks. Since I put them in, we’ve had no problems with people on the trucks,” he said. “It’s the taxpayers’ property.

“We are all here to help the community, help save people’s property,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to get back to helping each other. And supporting the community.”

Lightning Round

Favorite place on Shelter Island?  Bootleggers Alley, that’s where I proposed on Christmas Day, 2015.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island?  Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Last time you were elated?  When my children were born. Everything comes back to my boys.

What exasperates you?  When someone knows their job but they don’t do it.

Last time you were afraid?  When Crystal gave birth. You don’t want to see the person you love in pain.

Best day of the year on Shelter Island?  When the community actually comes together for one purpose, like the spaghetti dinners at the Legion, or the Halloween parade.

Favorite food?  Salad. The guys at the firehouse always say, ‘Here’s Tony’s rabbit food.’ I like kale.

Most respected elected official?  Amber Brach-Williams. That woman is top notch. If I have to call her, she will drop everything to help me.