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Union Chapel’s Volunteer Sunday honors Fire Department: A tribute to those who keep us safe

They keep our island safe from fires and are deserving of honor every day. The Shelter Island Fire Department (SIFD) will be acknowledged as part of Volunteer Sunday on July 24 at 10:30 a.m. at the Union Chapel in the Grove. Father Peter DeSanctis of Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church will preach, “Called To Be Artisans of the Revolution of Tenderness,” and baritone Thomas Milton will sing, accompanied by Music Director Linda Betjeman.

At the Shelter Island High School graduation this year, Fire Marshall Mike Johnson presented five graduating seniors each with a $1,000 scholarship. What made it extraordinary but so typical of our island was the students were handed the checks by Sam the Smoke Detector hand puppet.

The kids recognized Sam and his fellow puppets, Frank the Firefighter, and Frank’s girlfriend, Samantha. Fire Marshall Mike has been staging puppet shows for the pre-K and kindergarten classes for 33 years at the school during Fire Prevention Week.

He also gives similar performances at the Senior Center and the Dinner Bell, and leads the annual Halloween parade. He is secretary and deputy treasurer on the Fire Commissioners Board, and secretary and treasurer for the Fire Department. “Being a volunteer,” he said, “is not to get self-recognition, but to give your time and talents to help others.”

According to SIFD Fire Commissioner Keith Clark, there are approximately 70 volunteers in the department. Originally, there were two fire departments on the Island. The Heights branch was organized in 1895 and joined by the Center Fire District in 1931 to increase protection for the rural island community. In 1995, the two departments merged to form the SIFD. The Board of Fire Commissioners is composed of five elected Island residents — three ex-chiefs and two well-seasoned officers — and is currently chaired by Greg Sulahian.

Rev. DeSanctis, known as Father Peter, is a familiar presence around the Island. He’s been associated with Our Lady of the Isle in various capacities since the 1970s and has been pastor for 11 years. He is the son of Peter and Gloria DeSanctis. He holds two master’s degrees. He completed basic Army training at Fort Dix; served in the 8th Medical Brigade of the US Army; trained in Walson Army Hospital, the Veterans Administration and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. He assisted the New York City Medical Examiner’s office and was appointed liaison to the New York Police Department. He also graduated from the Suffolk County Fire Academy.

On the Island, Father Peter is an active volunteer, working as assistant coach for the Shelter Island School’s varsity golf team, clergy consultant for the All-Faith Youth Group, and a member of the Fire Department, American Legion and Lions Club.

Baritone Thomas Milton is a year-round resident of Shelter Island and cantor at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church. He has been a featured soloist at Union Chapel and Shelter Island Presbyterian Church and has performed throughout the East End, singing with the Perlman Music Program, Shelter Island Community Chorus, Choral Society of the Hamptons and Peconic Bay Masterworks Choir.

Please join us for an interdenominational service for Volunteer Sunday on July 24 at 10:30 a.m. There will be fire trucks, too. A reception, catered by Stars Cafe will follow the service. Our commemorative book, “All Are Welcome:150 years of Shelter Island’s Union Chapel in the Grove,” by Carrie Cooperider is available after the service or at Finley’s Fiction.