Weekends have been rainy in the past several weeks, but Saturday was a bright and sunny day as members of the Shelter Island Fire Department came out to Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery to honor Andy Steinmuller who, as Father Peter DeSanctis said, had “answered his final call.”
Remains of Mr. Steinmuller and his wife, Genevieve “Jean” M. Steinmuller, were in box-shaped urns placed in the ground. Family and friends were joined for a final salute from those who served alongside the long-time firefighter, fire police officer and fire commissioner.
Mr. Steinmuller had been a firefighter for 67 years and a commissioner for more than 25 years. He retired as commissioner in 2018. But he could still be seen working as a Fire Department member, directing traffic to enable his younger colleagues to speed to fire calls.
Ms. Steinmuller died Oct. 26, 2010, and her husband 10 years later, almost to the day, on Oct. 31, 2020.
Firefighters in full dress uniforms lined the entrance to the cemetery saluting as the procession of fire vehicles made their way to the site where Father DeSanctis told the family that Andy and Jean would be “safe in their final resting place,” surrounded by the graves of more than 180 members of the Armed Services.
“The good he has done will live after him,” Father DeSanctis said, noting Mr. Steinmuller always emphasized the importance of spouses, other family members, and especially children.
Saturday’s service was billed as a “Celebration of Life,” and so it was, as those he loved — four generations of the family — paid respects with floral tributes to their family patriarch and his wife.
Bethpage firefighter Sal Greco brought tears to people’s eyes, with his own voice cracking, as he spoke about serving as deputy chief when Mr. Steinmuller was chief of the Bethpage department. He called Mr. Steinmuller his mentor. “He was tough,” Mr. Greco said, because he wanted things done right.
Mr. Steinmuller had started as a volunteer firefighter in Bethpage, became chief of that department, and instituted the Bethpage EMS squad. He also functioned as an EMT trainer for several fire departments.
Commissioner Larry Lechmanski made the crowd laugh when he talked about his former colleague’s stubbornness, then admitted he, too, could be very stubborn.
Mr. Lechmanski joined the Heights Fire Department in 1976 when Mr. Steinmuller was there. He wanted procedures to be right and insisted on training even when, in those days, much of the training was handled locally. He insisted on getting water tanks installed around the Island to ensure there would be sufficient water to fight blazes throughout the town. That the town is surrounded by water didn’t change the need for tanks in some critical areas, he said.
Mr. Steinmuller fought hardest to bring about the merger of the Heights and Center Fire Departments into a single unit, Mr. Lechmanski said. It was his friend Andy who led the way and became a commissioner of the newly merged department, quelling what had been like a Hatfield and McCoy battle.
“We finally put all that behind us,” Mr. Lechmanski said. Mr. Steinmuller didn’t always agree with his fellow commissioners, but he was strong in holding to what he believed was right, the commissioner said.
Father DeSanctis showed some of Mr. Steinmuller’s writings about fire safety and one he called “A Vanishing Breed” of volunteer firefighters.
He would pull out his typewriter and you knew he was serious about his writing because he would actually turn off Channel 12 to pay attention to the words on the page, Father DeSanctis said. “Andy took it very seriously,” he said.
At the time of his retirement, Mr. Steinmuller reflected on a major fire he helped fight in Dering Harbor, and also on one of his last major blazes at the Belle Crest B&B in February 2013 that resulted in heavy damage to that structure.
Firefighting was in his blood, he said at the time.