Despite its domestically targeted title, Netflix's "Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas" helped make a Long Island firehouse festive on the streaming series' second episode.
"I was a little nervous about it at first, because I really don't do holidays," Capt. Jeffrey Kempf Jr., 33, told Newsday about the show's visit to his Mohawk Engine Company No. 5, one of the companies of the West Islip Fire Department. In his bachelor days, he had been "the guy who would work the holidays to give the day off to guys with kids. And now I'm married and I have a 3-year-old, so I started appreciating [holidays] more in the last couple of years," he says. "I want to be there for my son and let him enjoy Christmas."
The series, which follows New York City-based interior designer Benjamin Bradley, aka Mr. Christmas, and his assistants, aka "elves," as they deck various halls, visited West Islip in October of last year at the behest of a letter purportedly from Kempf. "I'm writing to you to bring back the holiday spirit to the community of West Islip," Bradley reads in the episode's opening. "The annual lighting of the firehouse has become an event unto itself."
"Well, I actually didn't write the letter," Kempf confesses. Local funeral director and fire-department friend Doug Chapey "wrote the letter by himself" after speaking with Kempf's father, second-generation West Islip Fire Department Chief Jeffrey Kempf Sr., who loved the holiday season and spearheaded the firehouse's decorations each year. By the time of the elder Kempf's death in August 2019, Chapey had learned that the show wanted to feature the firehouse.
The letter read on-air, says Capt. Jeffrey Kempf Jr., "was based on interviews that we did a couple months prior with the film crew." Production took place for "five or six days," capturing more than could fit in a 37-minute episode. "We took them to a burn drill, we did a chili contest … [and] a Santa Claus competition right before that," Kempf says. A self-described fan of renovation and house-flipping shows, Kempf "figured there would be a little bit more" on-screen, "but it's still cool." The reveal at the end shows not only a merry indoor and outdoor display — with a vintage firetruck at the station playing a role — but also the sprucing up of the volunteer firefighters' lounge.
Kempf was born and raised in West Islip, where he now lives again with nurse wife Samantha and son Jeffrey Kempf III after spending his young-adult years in Central and West Islip. Kempf Jr. works full time for the North Patchogue Fire Department as a maintenance mechanic. He works part time for the West Islip department as a dispatcher in addition to his volunteer duties.
This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the decorating was more muted. "All the guys that work during the days, they're doing it to the best of their abilities with the crew they're working with, and we do appreciate everything they're doing, but that's really it this year," Kempf says. "Maybe next year when it goes back to normal" the firehouse will go more all-out — including with the new decorations bought by the show, "We do have," he assures, "everything saved."