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Island profile | Dan Rasmussen, Shelter Island’s new Fire Department chief

When Daniel (Dan) Rasmussen arrives at the scene of a fire, he has all the emotions you would expect, and a few you might not.

“It’s pretty scary when you’re rolling up and there are flames rolling out of a house. It’s a real adrenaline rush,” Dan said. “You have to get yourself together. It’s the training.”

He’s lived on Shelter Island since he was two months old. He’s 43 now with a wife and two children. With decades of service to Shelter Island’s all-volunteer Fire Department, he’s now starting his second term as chief.

Being chief makes responding to a fire more complicated. “I’m immediately trying to size up everything. Where we want trucks parked, and where we’re going to get water. The fire is always changing depending on what’s in the house and on the construction of the house.”

When Dan came to Shelter Island as a baby, his grandfather Andy Steinmuller owned property on Manwaring Road, which has been his home ever since.

“My grandfather was good friends with Charlie Kraus,” Dan said. “That’s how they came here. There was miniature golf and tennis courts, and my grandfather had two scallop shops on that property.”

He went to the Shelter Island School, and at age 13 learned how to tend a baby when his sister Lisa Rasmussen was born.

“My parents were heavily involved with the EMS, so if they had a call, I had to watch her,” he said.

At school he participated in every sport he could: basketball, the track team, golf team, and in his senior year, baseball.

Dan joined the volunteer Fire Department in 1999 at age 19. In 2007, Legislator Ed Romaine presented a proclamation of “Daniel Rasmussen Day,” passed by the Suffolk County Legislature to honor him as Firefighter of the Year. In 2011, he was chosen as a fire chief for the first time.

Whatever makes Dan run into burning buildings seems to run in the family. His grandfather, Andy Steinmuller, was the Nassau County Fire Marshal, and for many years was a Shelter Island Fire Commissioner. Tony Reiter, who was just elected commissioner, is his brother-in-law, and Stanley Beckwith, second assistant chief, is also Dan’s brother-in-law.

Dan started working for a living when he was 14. Currently working in maintenance for the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation, he started out in the kitchen at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, and worked with his father doing welding and mechanics. For 17 years he was with Jernick Moving & Storage in Greenport.

Working as a janitor at the Shelter Island School, Dan met a student, his future wife, Catherine Peterson. Not sure of the moment when they first spotted each other, he remembers, “I was working at the school and she was everywhere I was.”

They have two children, Danielle and Joseph in the 7th and 5th grades at the school, and Catherine is a member of the Island’s Emergency Medical Services and also works for the Police Department as a crossing guard.

“This is a great place to raise children, the safety of the Island, the way everybody knows each other,” he said. “The problem is, now you can’t buy a place to live.” 

Dan says the biggest change here in his lifetime is in the community. “It’s changed a lot going from the good-old-boy town, to a lot more people around here from the city,” he said. “They want it quiet, and sometimes we are not quiet.”

His bond with fellow Fire Department volunteers runs deep. At monthly meetings, they cook and eat together, and the firefighters assigned to each truck take turns. “Last month they had lasagna. At election time, it’s the chief’s turn and we get surf and turf.”

The team-building practice of a firehouse cooking and eating together actually comes from the city, where paid firefighters live at the fire house, and have to eat there too. “For us volunteer guys, we’re only cooking once a month for our meetings,” Dan said. 

Training and recruitment are important parts of his responsibilities as fire chief, and he’s always looking for young men and women to join an increasingly mature group of first-responders.

He said he was glad to see the family tradition of firefighting being passed on to daughters as well as sons when Greg Sulahian’s daughter Alexis joined the ranks.

Dan’s realistic about what could happen if young volunteers don’t step up. “Then we’re going to have a paid Fire Department,” he said. “It may come to that, if it keeps getting more and more expensive to live here.”

Lightning Round — Dan Rasmussen

What do you always have with you?

I always have a picture of my wife and my kids in my wallet.

Favorite place on Shelter Island?

Shell Beach, the very end across from Wades Beach.

When was the last time you were elated?

When I had my kids.

What exasperates you?

The way people act in the summertime, not so nice, wanting things their way.

When was the last time you were afraid?

You know what they say about firefighters. We’re the people who are running in when everyone is running out.

Favorite foods?

Tacos and pizza.

Favorite person, living or dead?

My grandfather. He was with me for most of my life, and passed away Oct. 31, 2021 at 92.

Most respected elected officials?

My Board of Commissioners; Keith Clark, Andy Reeve, Greg Sulahian, Hap Bowditch and Tony Reiter.