Laura Walker fondly remembers her father regaling her with stories about fighting fires in Dix Hills.
“I always grew up with him going to a fire or a rescue call. He loved the fire department. That was his absolute love,” said Walker, daughter of Fred Kuhne, a founding member of the Dix Hills Fire Department. Kuhne died Dec. 20 at the age of 88 after years of battling health complications.
He was the last surviving charter member of the original 40 residents who founded the volunteer fire department in Dix Hills in 1947.
Walker, 62 of Orlando, Fla., said through tears, her dad’s dedication to fighting fires propelled her to a profession that also helps people. “When we were kids, he would come home from a fire call, a rescue call, and he would tell us stuff about it. And I would think, ‘That’s really cool, he saved someone’s life.’ I want to do that and that’s why I became a nurse,” she said.
Kuhne was born in Manhattan and moved to Dix Hills during his childhood, his wife, Ethel, said. Ethel, 84, recalled she met her future husband at a party at a firehouse. She said Fred was smitten with her and her feelings eventually caught up to his.
“He kept asking me to marry him, and I kept saying no, and finally, I gave in,” Ethel said. She affectionately described him as “stubborn.” She added: “I saw a lot of good in him.”
The couple enjoyed exploring the world aboard cruise ships. They also took in nature at sites including Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Fred Kuhne was a Civil War aficionado and an avid reader of Clive Cussler thriller novels. “I think he has every book he ever wrote,” Ethel Kuhne said.
Fred Kuhne also served as a private and cook in the Army.
Cheryl Pierre, 60, of Valley Stream, his younger daughter, recalled how her father was a skilled laborer who held paving jobs, drove heavy machinery and worked as a custodian. He then held paid jobs within the fire department as a dispatcher and mechanic, fixing the firetrucks.
Steve Silverman, a spokesman with the Dix Hills Fire Department, said Kuhne was beloved in the firefighting community.
“He was the last link to the original department,” Silverman said. “Fred was part of the early pioneers who formed this department and built the solid foundation that grew into what the department has developed into today.”
His late father, Alfred Kuhne, was also a charter member who help build Dix Hills’ first firehouse with his teenage son, Silverman said. In the department, Kuhne wore many hats, including holding posts as captain and assistant chief. The department calls him its most senior member, recognizing 71 years of service.
Pierre said her daughter, Felicia Giacomazza of Smithtown, was her father’s pride. “He adored her. I don’t know if it’s because she was the only grandchild, he had a ball with her growing up.”
Fred Kuhne’s wake was held Dec. 28 at the Claude R. Boyd Caratozzolo Funeral Home in Deer Park. He was buried the next day at the Melville Cemetery.
He was predeceased by his parents, Alfred and Freida Kuhne of Dix Hills. Besides his wife, two daughters and granddaughter, Fred Kuhne is survived by his sister, Elizabeth Marino of New Port Richey, Fla.