Where's the fire?
by Tom Edwards , Editor-In-Chief, Buhner.com

    September 11th brought out a lot of things in the community, no matter where in the country you live.  But, in New York especially, it brought out a lot of things in people that they themselves probably would not have imagined.  In my case, it was the final push over the edge that made me want to become a volunteer fireman.

    Let me tell you first that 9/11 didn't put me in a direction that I wasn't already heading.  The seeds had been set already.  My father had been a volunteer fireman for over 35 years, and my grandfather before him.  I grew up knowing the difference between a signal 13 and a signal 23, and knew that sometimes, dinner would have to wait because the whistle blew.  It was a part of my life, and hell, maybe it was my destiny.

    Of course, you can join the fire department when you're 18, and when I was 18, I was already in my freshman year at Hofstra University, so I was spending 9 months out of the year away from Bridgehampton.  Add onto that the fact that the fire department was always a place for my dad's friends and people that I called "Mister", so it wasn't exactly the most inviting place in the world.  So, I didn't join then.

    Opportunities arose after that, but the fire department just didn't seem like a place someone in their teens or early twenties ended up joining.  Being a volunteer meant no real incentive to joining outside of the pride of saving lives and possessions, traded for the risk of running into a flaming building, something they pretty much teach you not to do around the time you learn to walk.  Add onto that the knowledge that the younger firemen (those who actually joined) were looked upon with resentment by some of the older firemen, due to their gung-ho attitude and the fact that it may have made them realize that perhaps they, too, were getting a bit older and couldn't do the things that they could years ago.

    But the desire was still there, in a way, and all I needed, really, were a few events to put it into motion.  First off, my best friend joined the fire department, which seemed odd, because not only was he young, but he was black as well.  African-American volunteer firemen are rare on eastern Long Island, for whatever reason you would like to believe, but the fact that my best friend was there pushed me one step forward.

    September 11th then came and went, and the firefighting bug was likely put into a lot of heads, not just mine.  Being a fireman was considered "brave" and "heroic", something it had always been, but sometimes, it takes death to make people realize something that's blatantly obvious.

    Those two things were enough to make me want to join, but the fact remained that I still, at the time, lived in East Meadow.  East Meadow was closer to my job in Hauppauge than was Bridgehampton, or anything on the East End, for that matter.  My wife and I both wanted to move out east (me moreso than my wife, who would be moving away from her home town), but the concept of a middle class person obtaining a place to live in the Hamptons was laughable, at best.  However, we managed to find an apartment in Hampton Bays, which we both fell in love with, so we moved there, where we reside today.

    Now, with these three pieces put into place, the opportunity for yours truly to become a volunteer fireman was wide open.  Everywhere you turned, especially in the months before 9/11, every fire department had signs out in front of it calling out for new members.  Times had gotten pretty desperate on Long Island, and numbers were growing smaller, as ages grew higher.  It'd be pretty hard for someone in decent shape with the desire to become a fireman and a firefighting lineage dating back almost a century to not join a volunteer organization, right?


    Even with several friends who were firemen helping me, I, to this day, have yet to join a fire department, and am starting to think that I never will.  These organizations pleading poverty apparently aren't looking too hard.

    I began with the fire department that I initially wanted to join, the Bridgehampton Fire Department.  Although I lived in Hampton Bays, I had hoped that my father and grandfather's legacy and the fact that I had lived 25 of my 27 years in the hamlet would persuade Bridgehampton to overlook my current living arrangement.  It's not even as if I chose Hampton Bays over Bridgehampton.  Hampton Bays just happens to have apartments, where no such things exist in Bridgehampton.  I was told that since I currently lived in Hampton Bays, that I should try for the Hampton Bays Fire Department, and that since I did not currently live in Bridgehampton, I could not join the Bridgehampton Fire Department.  This got me down, to say the least, but after thinking it over for a while and discussing it with my wife, I decided that perhaps the Hampton Bays Fire Department was the way to go.

    However, I didn't know anyone in the Hampton Bays Fire Department, so I looked for ways to show my desire to join their company.  There was no information anywhere about joining the company, but I did, however, find a sign in the Hampton Bays King Kullen supermarket that gave a toll free number for those interested in joining a fire department in Suffolk County.  It wasn't run by Hampton Bays, but by the county itself.  I figured that even if Bridgehampton wouldn't have me, surely Hampton Bays would contact me immediately after contacting the county, or if not Hampton Bays, maybe some other, more desperate fire department.

    Two weeks have passed since I contacted the county about my desire to be a volunteer fireman, and I have yet to hear anything from anyone.  No one.  Not even an email stating that my call was received, and they'd be sending me more information.  I did, however, receive several phone calls from the Fraternal Order of State Troopers, to which I gave money to the first time, then informed them that I had already donated after that; making me wonder what exactly the purpose was for the volunteer fire department toll free number.  Perhaps it was some great marketing scheme that the state came out with to capitalize on the patriotism of New Yorkers to get some more money out of them.  Who knows?  Anyway, I digress.

    After some research by a fireman friend, I learned, through secondhand knowledge, that there is a one year residency requirement to join this volunteer organization.  However, I had to find this out through other means, as no one contacted me to tell me I was not eligible.  Perhaps, in nine months, on my one year anniversary of living in Hampton Bays, I will get a phone call from the Fire Department, informing me that I am now eligible to join a volunteer organization that will allow me to run into burning buildings and risk my life to save others.  That, or the Fraternal Order of State Troopers will ask for more money.

    Either way, I'll still be annoyed as I sit back and listen to fire whistles go off and do absolutely nothing, because if I have to wait nine months, I don't want to join.  Let all the houses burn down, for all I care.  Just knowing the hypocritical nature of the fire departments of the East End that cry about their dwindling numbers and increasing ages of their members who then make absolutely no effort to go into the community and try to recruit anyone to join except to tell their sob story to local newspapers such as the Improper Hamptonian (see latest issue) make me a little less inspired to follow tradition.