Fred Harrison was rooted in the soil of Long Island, growing up on a working farm in Poquott and getting a degree from Farmingdale State College in 1950 when it was a two-year school specializing in agriculture.
Harrison returned to work at the college for the last 50 years of his life. He was associate director of the physical plant until his death July 21 at 88, his family and the school said.
The son of a volunteer firefighter, he became chief of the Melville Fire Department and swore in his son, James, as Melville chief in January 1994.
“Two things dominated my father’s life: SUNY Farmingdale and the fire service,” said James Harrison of Melville.
At the school, Fred Harrison spearheaded many projects, including the building of a basketball court and a campus driving range — and put in countless hours.
“Reportedly, during a blizzard, he worked a snowplow for 72 hours straight to make sure FSC could open,” college president John Nader said in a letter to the school community.
Harrison “was a rare witness to the astonishing transformation of the campus from an agricultural college to the largest college of technology within SUNY (the State University of New York),” Nader wrote. “He was as dedicated to his family, community and alma mater as anyone could possibly be.”
At the Melville Fire Department, he was known for pushing the fire service into the modern era with additional tools and medical training, his son said.
At Fred Harrison’s urging, the department in 1973 became the first in Suffolk County to use the Jaws of Life — a hydraulic tool used at the time to cut race car drivers free from mangled cars, but that was being adapted for everyday use by emergency workers.
“My father was a jack of all trades. There wasn’t a thing with wheels he couldn’t drive and a tool he couldn’t use,” his son said.
Harrison was born Dec. 26, 1928, to Frederick and Amelia Harrison, who lived on the Roads End Farm on the North Shore estate of businessman Edward L. Tinker.
He graduated from Port Jefferson High School in 1946 and earned a degree in ornamental horticulture in 1950 from what was then Farmingdale Agricultural and Technical Institute.
He enlisted in the Army and served as an engineer in Germany until his discharge in 1952.
One lasting impact of Army service was cowboy boots. He bought a pair at his first assignment at Ford Sill, Oklahoma, and wore them almost every day for this rest of his life.
He returned to Long Island and worked for 15 years at Country Gardens, supervising landscaping projects that included construction of the Dix Hills Golf Course, before going to work at the college.
In 1947 he joined the Setauket Fire Department, where his father had been a captain and commissioner.
He moved to Melville and joined the fire department there in 1959, becoming chief in 1972. He was elected to the department’s Board of Fire Commissioners in 1975 and served four consecutive five-year terms.
He married Maryann Pett in 1955 after they met at a church function in Rockville Centre. She died in 1992. Ten years later, he married Carolyn Wall-LoPalo, whom he met at the college.
In his spare time he tended his flower garden and traveled the world. “He went on cruises. He and our stepmom went on a lot of cruises,” his son said.
Harrison is also survived by daughters Catherine Moore, of East Northport, and Laurie Slade, of Berne, New York;, and stepsons Matthew LoPalo and Brian LoPalo, both of Babylon, and Douglas LoPalo, of Oakdale.
A wake was held at A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home in Huntington Station July 22-23.
There was a funeral Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Melville on July 24, followed by burial at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.