Hundreds of firefighters have served the Flanders Fire Department since it was incorporated in 1948. But in all those decades, not a single one has served as long as ex-chief Michael DeNicolo.
As a teenager, Mr. DeNicolo, now 84, helped build the firehouse — literally brick by brick — when his father became one of the department’s founding members. While serving as chief in 1964, he helped fight back flames across swaths of land from Hampton Bays to East Quogue as the Pine Barrens burned.
As the official historian of the Flanders Fire Department, he created a wall in the firehouse devoted to the department’s history and adds new plaques and photos each year.
He no longer charges into burning buildings with fellow firefighters, but he still spends every week attending advisory committee and firefighter council meetings with the current chiefs.
“It’s hard to describe Mike,” said Flanders Fire Chief Joseph Petit. “He’s always a wealth of information and he’s got a great sense of humor … He’s liked by everybody. You couldn’t find anybody who could say a bad thing about him.”
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He’s an inspiration to the department, Chief Petit said. And last Wednesday was Mr. DeNicolo’s night.
The longtime member was honored at the firehouse as the first official 50-year member in the department’s history. He’s actually been there longer, more than 60 years in total, but was an inactive member for 10 years when he moved away from the area in the 1990s.
Decked out in his dress uniform, Mr. DeNicolo accepted gifts and plaques from local leaders and fellow firefighters at the catered dinner.
“The volunteer fire service is based on people like this,” said Eugene Perry Jr., director of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. Mr. Perry presented Mr. DeNicolo with a proclamation on behalf of the organization.
“It just means a lot to have these senior members around to instruct these younger kids,” he said.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst also attended and wrapped her arms around Mr. DeNicolo as she praised his determination and conviction to help his community.
“He’s just a stand-up gentleman,” she said. “He’s a sweetheart of a man.”
Assemblyman Fred Thiele also lauded Mr. DeNicolo’s decades of service, calling him a “leader” for local firefighters.
Mr. DeNicolo wiped tears from his eyes as firefighter after firefighter approached the podium at the firehouse to speak, give him a firm handshake and then a hug. Members of the department saved up to give him a gift certificate to Foxwoods casino and presented his wife, Lorraine, with a bouquet of flowers.
“He means the world to us,” Chief Petit said. “In the fire department you learn to look up to senior members.”
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Mr. DeNicolo jokingly told the News-Review that he joined the department in 1949 just because it was a way for him to get out of school when a report of a fire came in. But since then, he said, it’s become a inseparable part of his life.
“For me, it was my love,” Mr. DeNicolo said, sitting next to his wife. “She came first, the fire department came second … It’s a camaraderie. It’s a brotherhood.”
He said he’s seen the department grow from a dozen men in 1949 to the 47-member department it is now. The equipment has changed and the training has become more intense for new firefighters. It’s a commitment, but one he never plans to give up.
“They’re going to have to lay me out,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve got that all planned. I’m having a fire department funeral.”
Caption: A picture hanging at the Flanders firehouse shows Michael DeNicolo when he was department chief.