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Salvatore T. Silvestri Sr. dies at 84; was ex-firefighter, mentor

Salvatore T. Silvestri Sr., of Melville, the longest

Salvatore T. Silvestri Sr., of Melville, the longest serving member of the Melville Volunteer Fire Department, died March 24 at the White Oaks Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Woodbury, at the age of 84. Credit: Melville Fire Department

Salvatore T. Silvestri Sr. of Melville, a retired insurance agent and financial planner who was the longest serving member of the Melville Volunteer Fire Department, died March 24 at the White Oaks Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Woodbury, at the age of 84.

He had dementia, his son Steven Silvestri said, but until a few years ago had remained active in the fire department, which he had first joined at age 17 — 67 years ago.

“Sal was our most senior member of the organization,” First Assistant Fire Chief David Kaplan said. “He was as dedicated an individual as I’ve ever seen.”

Calling Silvestri a mentor and teacher, Kaplan added: “He was there, day in and day out, calls, parades, trainings and meetings. . . . Until he was 80 years old, he was riding a fire truck.”

Silvestri was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 25, 1933, the third of Matthew and Rose Silvestri’s six children. The family moved to Melville when he was about 5, where they raised chickens for eggs at the corner of Altamore Street and Old East Neck Road. His father, a house painter, sold their eggs on a Brooklyn route.

They lived a mile “as the crow flies,” said Steven Silvestri, from the home of Silvestri’s future wife, Janet Schmitt, a member of the Schmitt farming family, whose brothers were also volunteers at the fire department. Janet, 81, survives him.

After graduating from Huntington High School, Silvestri received an associate degree in mechanical engineering from Farmingdale State College and served two years in the Army from 1954 to 1956. He married Janet in February 1957 and built the house on Bainbridge Avenue where they raised their three children, Susan Kuehne of Lake Grove, Salvatore Jr. and Steven, both of Melville.

Silvestri’s first job was as an engineer at Fairchild Republic at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, but his part-time work as an insurance agent meant to earn extra money grew into a full-time profession. He was a perennial Million Dollar Round Table producer and member of the Leaders Club for Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, from which he retired, his son said.

His many activities, Steven Silvestri said, included leadership positions at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church and managing and playing on the Melville fire department softball team.

But his passion was the fire department, serving as the first lieutenant of the new Engine Company No. 3, and as captain from 1962 to 1965. He was elected fire commissioner from 1999 to 2008, including four years as chairman of the board. He received an award for raising nearly $100,000 for 50 automatic defibrillators so each EMT could carry one.

His first priority was his family, said Steven Silvestri, and he spent less time volunteering at the fire department when his children were young. He taught them “the value of family and the value of being proud of what you earned and accomplished; that was big,” said Steven Silvestri, who with his brother, Salvatore Jr., are also volunteers with the Melville fire department.

He also enjoyed his grandchildren, dancing and music from the 1950s, teaching one granddaughter how to dance the jitterbug in a restaurant parking lot on Route 110 when he was 82, Steven Silvestri said.

A few days after his death, the fire department’s webpage showed a photo of him smiling, in uniform, and underneath it read: “For our own #32, Sal Silvestri, Sr. Rest In Peace, sir; we have the watch from here.”

He is also survived by siblings Alfred, Theresa Daiuto and Gloria Perry; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. His brother Anthony and sister Camille predeceased him.

A wake was held Monday and Tuesday at M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington. A funeral Mass was celebrated Wednesday at St. Elizabeth Church, and his sons accompanied his coffin atop a pumper truck to Melville Cemetery for interment.

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