Many members of the Riverhead Volunteer Fire Department will remember Bill Brooks for a lot of different reasons. Some will recall his sense of humor; others, his record-setting success in firefighter races or maybe his dream of becoming a country singer, regardless of musical talent.
But his fellow firefighters will share one thing in common: They will all remember him.
Mr. Brooks, a Calverton resident, died Thursday at the Riverhead Care Center. He was 87, and at the time of his death, he’d been a member of Riverhead’s Eagle Hose Company No. 4 for 62 years.
“[He was] one of the greatest guys I went through the chairs with,” said Joe Pipczynski, himself a 58-year Eagle Hose veteran. “He was always good.”
Mr. Brooks’ father had also been a member of Eagle Hose, and his son Kevin, who could not be reached for comment, is the current chief of the RFD.
“He’ll be a heck of a great guy,” Mr. Pipczynski said of Kevin Brooks. “He’ll go along just like his father taught him.”
Mr. Brooks was born in 1928 in Riverhead. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1949 and he spent his career as a delivery driver for Hardings and Son Furniture in Riverhead.
He was also a dedicated part of Riverhead’s Polish community, both as a member and past president of the Polish Town Civic Association and as a lifelong member of Eagle Hose, which is itself a key part of Polish Town.
“He was a good guy,” said Mike Panchak, captain of the Eagle Hose company. “He had a great sense of humor.”
As a firefighter, Mr. Brooks was an accomplished member of the Ironmen racing team, alongside fellow Eagles Larry and Bob Taylor. In 1955, they won the first-place trophy in a county three-man ladder race — their specialty — and, according to Mr. Panchak, they once won the state title in that race.
Larry Taylor said their three-man team once tied, but was never defeated in their career.
Peter Bilski, who spent more than 35 years as an Eagle Hose member before moving to Florida, said he had long been a fan of Mr. Brooks’ racing acumen.
“I used to follow them even before I got in the department, watching him perform with the Taylors,” he said. “[Mr. Brooks] was an Ironman and he was an Eagle through and through.”
Mr. Taylor and Mr. Brooks grew up together in Polish Town and remained lifelong friends. He said he will always remember his companion’s warmth and the thrill of racing together.
“We were together as brothers in the fire department right up until now,” Mr. Taylor said.
One of Mr. Brooks’ hobbies was singing and playing the guitar, and he often joked about becoming a country western singer, Mr. Pipczynski said. He would sometimes break out the guitar at the firehouse, even if his performances were less than stellar.
“He was just a fun guy to hang with,” he said.