Jamesport Fire Department Lt. Stevie Czelatka Jr. is the department’s 2013 Firefighter of the Year.
During his six years with the department, Lt. Czelatka has answered rescue calls during tropical storms and the 2012 wildfires in Manorville. He’s also the leader of the department’s probationary firefighter program.
We chatted with Lt. Czelatka about his family’s firefighting history, his most memorable calls, and what it means to help those in his community.
Q: What inspired you to join the fire department?
A: I joined when I was in college, but basically my dad has been a part of Jamesport for the better part of 15 years. So, I remember going there and seeing the camaraderie and everything he has with all of his friends. Seeing what he does was kind of cool and I always looked forward to it. I saw there were some openings in Jamesport and so I went for it.
Q: What part of being a firefighter might people not know about?
A: Obviously, the training. Being a volunteer fireman, people see it as a volunteer position, but, especially in Suffolk County, the instructors instill in you from day one the thought that you are a professional volunteer.
We do a lot of mutual aids. We don’t get the dozen working fires every year, or the crazy calls, but even something as small as going to Brentwood and spending a night there when the salvage center burned down a few months ago is important.
Q: Which emergency call is most memorable?
A: I remember one of my first calls was actually a double fatality on the Main Road. I was only riding on the truck a few months when we got that call … You see that in the first few months with the fire department and it sets the tone for the job — what you have to do and what’s expected of you.
We took a tanker [to the 2012 wildfire in Manorville]. We were one of the first few tankers on Shultz Road. I remember we were filling up one of Ridge’s brush trucks and filling up one of Rocky Point’s brush trucks when the fire basically rolled right over us.
Q: What’s your advice to someone interested in becoming a firefighter?
A: From old to young, people always ask me because I’m very involved. I’ve never told anybody ‘don’t join.’ It’s a very rewarding job. You see the rewards because it’s such a smaller town. You see the impact you make on certain people’s lives and you’re building lifetime friendships with the guys and girls not only in your department but the surrounding departments.