Ex-Captain Ray Atkins, holding plaque, with Reliable Hose & Engine Co. officers, from left, Second Lt. Kevin Kosciuszko, First Lt. Brian Smith and Capt. Bill Sprotson. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Fire Department ex-Captain Ray Atkins joined the ranks of 50-year members of the department this month and was honored with dinner and a ceremonies last night at department headquarters, hosted by the Reliable Hose & Engine Company No. 1.

Atkins, 74, has been a member of the Reliable since he joined the department on June 23, 1972. Like many volunteer firefighters, Atkins followed in the footsteps of father, Crawford Atkins.

The veteran firefighter has held many positions in the department and in the firefighters association over the years, including captain and first lieutenant of the Reliable Hose and Engine Company No. 1. He served for more than 12 years as sergeant at arms of the Riverhead Firefighters Association, and was also the association’s first vice president. He was a member of the Riverhead Fire Department’s Ironmen racing team from 1972 to 1985.

Atkins was fêted last night by Riverhead Fire District commissioners, Riverhead Fire Department chiefs, the Reliable Hose and Engine Company, the Suffolk County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, County Legislator Al Krupski and Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

“It is an inspiration to see somebody be that dedicated for that long,” Krupski said as he presented Atkins with a proclamation. “Everybody in the community appreciates everything the fire department does. You are trained and ready to protect us all the time,” the legislator said.

Aguiar congratulated Atkins, noting, “after 50 years you’re still smiling,” which she said “says something about yourself, your personality.” The supervisor presented him with a Riverhead Town lapel pin.

Ex-Captain Ray Atkins and his wife Donna at a June 14 ceremony honoring him for 50 years of service to the Riverhead Fire Department. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Fellow firefighters shared memories about Atkins’ years of service, peppered with some good-natured teasing.

“You’re the only firemen in the history of the department — maybe on Long Island — to roll a brush truck into the bay during Superstorm Sandy,” Reliable Capt. Bill Sprotson told Atkins.

Reliable officers presented Atkins with a banner inscribed with his name and “50 years strong” and a photo of the disabled brush truck, drawing howls from fellow firefighters at the dinner.

Another gift that delighted the crowd was a pair of very short denim cut-off shorts — which Sprotson said were like the “Daisy Dukes” Atkins is seen wearing in a photo taken “back in the day” — a photo which somehow makes its way into a Power Point presentation during the annual firefighters’ refresher course.

Firefighters presented Atkins’ wife Donna with a bouquet of red roses to thank her for enduring the unpredictable life of a volunteer firefighter’s spouse — or, as Sprotson jokingly put it, “45 years of putting up with Ray.”

When it came time for Atkins to make some remarks, Atkins, characteristically, was a man of few words.

“All you young guys in now, you don’t do anything bad compared to what me and my buddies did,” Atkins told the room. “We were hell-raisers,” he said.

“I enjoyed my 50 years. I don’t think I’ll make another 50,” Atkins deadpanned.

“You just have to make it to my 50th,” joked Chief Joe Hartmann, who said he has another 21 years to go to reach that milestone.

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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.