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Former Riverhead fire chief William Conklin remembered as hero

After 63 years with the Riverhead Fire Department’s Reliable Hose company, William Conklin has answered his last alarm.

Mr. Conklin died Saturday, Aug. 10, at the age of 87.

In addition to his years as a volunteer firefighter, he also spent four years in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and was the owner of Long Island Ice and Fuel in Riverhead, according to his son, Chris.

Nicknamed “Chilly,” because of his ice business, Mr. Conklin moved up the ladder in the department, being a lieutenant, a captain, a chief and an elected district commissioner as well as chairman of the commissioners.

“Bill was a no-nonsense firefighter, get in and get out,” said ex-chief Pete Jackman, who was first introduced to Mr. Conklin 31 years ago, and spoke of him at Mr. Conklin’s wake Monday.

“This attitude carried over when he decided to run for lieutenant in 1960. He served the Reliables until 1966 and then moved up to the chief’s ranks,” Mr. Jackman said. “All in all, he was in a leadership position for 14 years, culminating as chief of department in 1972-74.”

He continued answering calls after his run as chief was over, and his efforts helped save a life during one incident.

On Sept. 15, 1988, the department responded to a call of a structure fire in the Millbrook Gables area.

“Smoke was visible as we came down Elton Street to Main,” Mr. Jackman said. “Upon arrival, there was a fire on the first floor and a confirmed occupant, a 13-month-old child, on the second floor.”

Firefighter Frank Darrow had the nozzle and Mr. Conklin was backing him up, Mr. Jackman said.

“They entered the residence, hit the fire quick and made a push up the stairs,” he said. When they got to the second floor, they grabbed the child.

“A 13-month-old child survived that day in no small part [due] to the actions of Bill Conklin,” said Mr. Jackman, who recalled thinking at the time, “Wow, this is what firefighting is all about.”

Mr. Jackman said that’s how he’ll remember “Chilly.”

His son remembers is dad as a hardworking man.

“I am not sure Dad ever slept,” Chris Conklin wrote in a biography handed out at the wake. “As if raising a family and building the foundation at work wasn’t enough, he also loved playing softball, polka music, the Riverhead Fire Department Ironmen, and he was always super active as a firefighter.”

Chris Conklin recalled a family vacation in Bristol, Tenn., in the early 1970s when there was a man at the bottom of a pool and his wife was screaming frantically.

“Our dad, without hesitation, dove in, pulled the man from the bottom of the pool, and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him until his breathing was restored, saving his life,” Chris wrote. “He never made a big deal of it and I remember feeling so proud of him for doing what he did. That’s just who he was.”

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