A change officials describe as an “evolution” is having big impacts on the Riverhead Fire Department.

One year ago, the department implemented a new class of membership for firefighters aimed at expanding membership opportunities and expanding the corps of dedicated volunteers who rush out to protect people and property in times of emergency. It’s worked better than anybody anticipated.

The department has nine new members who’ve joined in the past year as class B firefighters — and four of them are among its top responders for 2014, collectively answering nearly 600 calls over the course of the year.

“Previously, the fire district required anyone coming in to be a class A firefighter, qualified as an interior firefighter,” department spokesperson William Sanok said. “Real smoke-eaters.” Allowing new members to join as class B firefighters opened up opportunities for people moving into the district later on in life and for retirees looking for a way to give back to the community, he said.

In one instance, it allowed an 18-year-old who’s still in high school to sign up and go on to be one of the top five responders in the Fire Police Patrol Company, in which Sanok is also a member.

Indeed, Sanok said, the performance of the four new recruits are a great example of how the expanded membership opportunity has benefitted the department and the Fire Police Patrol Company in particular.

The Fire Police Patrol Company responds to fires, accidents and other incidents to support firefighting and emergency operations with traffic control posts and other responsibilities.

The company plays a crucial role securing the scene of any fire, accident or casualty situation, often freeing up police personnel who would otherwise be assigned such duties.

Nine new members joined the company in the past year, a much-needed infusion of manpower, company Capt. Baycan Fideli said last night at the Fire Police Patrol Company’s installation dinner. The annual event took place last night at the Hotel Indigo on West Main Street, where Fideli and other company officers took their oaths of office, administered by the chiefs of the department.

The company honored its top responder, Marcel LeCann, a new recruit who answered 181 calls last year.

The number two responder in the company was also a new recruit, David White. He answered 163 calls in 2014.

In a tie for third highest number of calls was another new recruit, Tom Fleischman, with 134 calls — matching the number answered by veteran Riverhead firefighter Jim Creighton.

Reese Walters Jr. answered 114 calls, the fourth-highest number for the year.

The number five top responder with 113 calls was yet another new recruit, Joe Goetz Jr., whose father, Joe Goetz Sr. is also a member of the Fire Police Patrol Company and was last night sworn in as its second lieutenant.

Goetz and Fleischman both said serving in the fire department is something that’s in their blood.

“It’s something I always wanted to do. I’ve lived with it my whole life,” Goetz Jr. said.

That sentiment was echoed by Fleischman, who was a member of the Westhampton Beach Fire Department where he lived before moving back to his hometown Riverhead and joined Riverhead Fire Department, where his family roots run deep. Fleischman’s grandfather, Charles Blasl was an assistant chief when he passed away in 1951 at age 50. His father Richard Fleischman was a member of the Reliable Hose and Engine Company, in which his brother Jeff and nephews Brian and Chris currently serve.

“I guess you could say it’s a family thing,” Fleischman said. “So the moment this opened up, I took it. The fire department is a wonderful thing to be a part of. It’s a great way to serve your community.”

White, who logged 163 calls as the company’s number two responder agreed.

“I’m so glad I did it,” he said. “The friendship has been phenomenal. These are the nicest people on earth.”

Also honored last night for length of service in the company were: ex-capt. Paul Sparrow, a member for 45 years; Walters and Dennis Kenter, both with 30 years of service; and company captain Fideli.

Kenter was presented with a special award for saving the life of a choking woman at a Calverton restaurant on Veterans Day. He was out to dinner with his family and witnessed a woman choking and unable to breathe. The woman’s husband was attempting to perform the Heimlich maneuver without success. Kenter stepped in and did the job, dislodging the object stuck in the woman’s throat, clearing her airway and saving her life.

“Service is what it’s all about,” Fideli said. “These folks exemplify that and show it every single day.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.