Ronald Jernick is the 2019 Firefighter of the Year. He was honored May 18 at Shelter Island Fire Department’s annual Installation Dinner at The Pridwin.
Mr. Jernick has been a Shelter Island firefighter for 24 years and has served as a department chief and as a fire commissioner. He promised when he left the commissioner’s post that he would remain active with the Fire Department, a promise well kept.
Mr. Jernick expressed surprise at being honored, modestly saying, “I guess they had no one else to give it to.”
An example of his dedication and bravery took place in January 2018 when a late afternoon fire at 16 Marc Street swept through an upstairs room, pouring heavy smoke through the window and roof. One of the first firefighters at the scene, Mr. Jerinck, hearing that someone might be trapped inside, which later tuned out to be inaccurate, jumped through a window to get inside.
At the time of his resignation from the Board of Fire Commissioners, his fellow Commissioner Richard Surozenski said of him, “He’s going to be missed. He did a great job for us.”
Mr. Jernick said he works 70 hours a week so has less time to answer fire calls, but when he is on scene, he spends as much time mentoring newer firefighters as handling a blaze himself.
“Training is important,” he said.
As for what attracted him to the department, he said “I didn’t join to get recognized. It was my way of giving back to a community that has been good to all of us.”
There is a change in the chiefs’ line as Anthony Reiter, who has been chief since 2017, stepped into the first assistant chief’s position, making his uncle, Earl Reiter chief, a post he has held in the past. Dan Rasmussen is second assistant chief.
The elevation of Earl Reiter wasn’t the only surprise of the evening. With only 30 seconds notice to master of ceremonies Mike Johnson, Mr. Reiter got down on one knee to ask his girlfriend Karen Green to marry him. She said “yes.” (In deference to her feelings, he told her in advance it would mean a lot to him if he could propose at the dinner).
Debra Speeches was honored for her more than 25 years as vice president and president of the Ladies Auxiliary. She stepped down Saturday night, handing the reins to Roberta Cook.
Former Commissioner Andy Steinmuller was honored for his 25 years in that position and his 68 years as a department member.
Two auxiliary members — Ann Beckwith and Pat Lenox — were each recognized for 50 years of service to the Ladies Auxiliary.
As a result of a pre-dinner inspection, special awards went to Captain Stan Beckwith and Lieutenant Ron Anderson for leading a crew in sprucing up the Ladder Truck 1018, one of the vehicles used to fight fires. James Richardson took on the lone task of cleaning of a large auxiliary truck by himself, winning a secondary truck award for a truck providing backup services to those vehicles used in directly fighting fires.
Jamie Cogan was honored for many services he gives to the department.
Two new firefighters, David Perillo and Stuart Mackey, were sworn in during the dinner.