Q & A: Meet Wading River’s new fire chief

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO Wading River's recently named fire chief, Eric Cohen, in front the department's newest ambulance.

The Wading River Fire Department has a new fire chief.

Eric Cohen, who has been with the Wading River Fire Department for the past 22 years, said on Friday — his 41st birthday — that under his command, the department will be looking for ways to increase safety in the seemingly ever-growing hamlet.

Mr. Cohen, who is also a Riverhead Police officer, said he’ll also be focused on recruiting new firefighters during his two-year term. “Slowly, but surely, we are getting new members,” he said. “Since it’s a small town, I think word of mouth is the key to recruitment.”

We sat down with Mr. Cohen, who was sworn in as chief last Saturday, to discuss his new career.

The following was excerpted from our conversation:

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Farmingville and graduated from Sachem High School. I joined the U.S. Army in 1990 and worked as a firefighter for six years. I lived in Middle Island for awhile before moving to Wading River in 1999. My wife and I love the small town feel of the community.

Q: Why did you decide to become a firefighter?

A: When I was 16, my sister was killed in a motor vehicle accident when an ambulance went through an intersection. It left an impression on me. I remember when I was a kid, me and my friends decided to follow a fire truck one night. When I saw the house fire I asked myself “How could I not be doing this?” I then decided it was something I needed to do and I became a volunteer firefighter at the Holtsville Fire Department in 1986.

Q: What was the most memorable fire you dealt with?

A: Fatalities always stick in your mind—especially with children. There are none more memorable than others. But one of the biggest fires I remember happened in 1989 at a lumber yard and warehouse in Medford. So many fire departments were on scene and it took about 12 hours to put it out. It was a mess and luckily there were no fatalities.

Q: What challenges does the fire department face?

A: Wading River isn’t as small as a community as it used to be. In the past 10 years, there’s been a lot of new development and the roads have gotten busier. We deal with a lot of motor vehicle accidents when people come out here to pick pumpkins and Christmas trees. And in the summer, Wading River is the gateway to the East End.

Safety is my number one goal. I plan to increase safety through meeting the demands of our growing community by investing in new equipment and advance training. We do a phenomenal job now with responses and it’s my goal to set the tone for future fire chiefs. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s also exciting.

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