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Richard Ligon, 40-year veteran of Riverhead Fire Department, dies at 77

Richard Ligon, a groundbreaking firefighter who was a 40-year veteran of the Riverhead Fire Department, died Monday. He was 77.

Mr. Ligon was the first African-American firefighter in the department’s history when he joined in 1977, and he was its first African-American commissioner when he was elected to that position in December 1999.

In 1975, Mr. Ligon’s application to join the department was rejected and he later filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Division, which ultimately led to a settlement that allowed him to join. As part of that settlement, the fire commissioners did not admit to having followed a discriminatory membership policy, according to news reports at the time.

Years later, Mr. Ligon’s efforts in the fire department drew nothing but praise.

Firefighters said he was consistently one of the department’s top responders, even in recent years at an advanced age.

“He was a great guy,” Chief Kevin Brooks said. “He lived and breathed the fire service. He was a top responder for years.”

On Sunday, Mr. Ligon attended the department’s annual Memorial Service in full uniform, and then later responded to two alarms, according to Allen Smith, a longtime member of the Red Bird Hook & Ladder Company, to which Mr. Ligon also belonged.

In 2011, at the age of 71, Mr. Ligon broke two ribs while fighting a fire in an auto parts store on Raynor Avenue and was briefly hospitalized.

“He was a great guy and a super fireman,” Mr. Smith said Monday.

Among his many accolades, Mr. Ligon was an ex-caption of Red Bird Hook & Ladder, he was a Suffolk County area representative for the state Drill Team Captain’s Association, a past captain of the Suffolk County Drill Officials, a president of the North Fork Volunteer Firefighters Association, and in 1994, he was awarded the Riverhead Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year award.

A Class of 1957 Riverhead High School graduate, and a U.S. Navy veteran, he worked as a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years.

Visitation will be Friday and Saturday from 2-4 and 6-9 p.m. at the Riverhead Fire House main headquarters on Roanoke Avenue. Funeral Service will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike. Burial with military honors to follow at Calverton National Cemetery.

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Photo caption: Richard Ligon pictured in 2005. (Credit: Barbarallen Koch, file)