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Oyster Bay's Atlantic Steamer Fire Company No. 1 celebrates 125 years

Former Chief Ray Hornosky at the the Atlantic

Former Chief Ray Hornosky at the the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company 1, one of Nassau County's oldest volunteer fire departments where they are about to celebrate their 125th anniversary, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015 in Oyster Bay. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When Atlantic Steamer Fire Company No. 1 in Oyster Bay was formed in 1890, Theodore Roosevelt, later the 26th president of the United States, lived on Sagamore Hill.

Firefighters used steam instead of pumps to pressurize water, and hoses were wheeled to fires on carts pulled by men running down local streets.

As the fire company celebrates its 125th anniversary Saturday with a parade and a big party at the firehouse, firefighters say the same spirit of volunteerism, a commitment to risk their lives to assist others and an intense camaraderie continue to imbue the company.

"I love helping people," said Darren Quintana, 39. "That's what I live for. Honestly, the look in a person's eyes when they're at their lowest point in life and they see me -- it brings great joy to me to have that person know they're not alone."

Atlantic Steamer serves the hamlet of Oyster Bay, and the villages of Oyster Bay Cove, Cove Neck, Laurel Hollow and Mill Neck. It covers the same territory as Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1., which is two years its senior.

Frank Ozol, 65, a former Atlantic Steamer chief, said, "125 years ago, some members wanted to join the other company and they didn't want them, so they formed their own."

Today, the companies complement each other, he said. Atlantic Steamer, for example, has the North Shore's only dive/water rescue team, and Oyster Bay has an ambulance, Ozol said.

Atlantic Steamer has about 80 volunteers, including an active core of 26 who dedicate four to five hours a day to the department, said Chief Robert Walles Jr. Most calls are for medical assistance; about a dozen volunteers are trained emergency medical technicians.

Ray Hornosky, the anniversary parade's grand marshal, joined the company in 1949 and at 84 still volunteers.

A former chief, he said one of the biggest changes from when he joined is greater professionalism. There was almost no training in 1949 -- volunteers learned on the job -- but today 96 hours of training are required before going into the field.

Nationally, volunteer fire departments tend to serve very small communities, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association. Larger departments are more common in the Northeast because the region's municipalities are older, creating a long-standing tradition that often is passed through generations of families, said Ken Willette, manager of public fire protection for the Quincy, Massachusetts-based group.

"That breeds a sense of duty among children," he said. "It definitely becomes a matter of family pride and family history."

In Nassau County, only the city of Long Beach and the village of Garden City have paid, full-time firefighters, and even those departments are dominated by volunteers, said Mike Capoziello, a historian with the Francis X. Pendl Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center in Uniondale.

Volunteer departments formed as population centers in the county grew, he said. They often attracted leading citizens. "It was really prestigious to be a firefighter back then," Capoziello said. "It still is today, but back then, it was really something."

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