Jeffrey "Jocko" Kempf Sr., a commissioner and former chief of the West Islip Fire Department and a 43-year member of the organization, died Saturday at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip after a nine-month battle with bone and lung cancer.
He was 60.
Kempf was born in 1959 in East Meadow and moved later to West Islip, where he graduated from West Islip High School and lived for the rest of his life, his son, Jeffrey Kempf Jr., said. He joined the West Islip Fire Department in 1976 at the age of 17 and rose through the ranks to serve as chief from 1994 to 1996 and again from 1998 until 2000.
Kempf's father, George, was also a former chief of the department and his son is now a captain. Firefighting was a frequent topic of conversation and Kempf spent four or five nights per week with his fellow members of the department, according to his son.
“It was always in his blood,” said Kempf Jr., 32, also of West Islip. “If you didn’t join, you weren’t part of the cult of the family.”
The younger Kempf’s 20-month-old son, Jeffrey Kempf III, is now a frequent visitor to the firehouse, walking around with a radio in hand, he said.
Kempf worked as a truck driver for Slomin’s home heating oil firm, but retired shortly after his diagnosis in November 2018. He helped train countless members through the years and relished his role as an official at New York State drill team events, which are competitions of firefighting-related activities.
“He was one of my mentors,” said current department chief John McAuley. “He was very aggressive as a firefighter and he didn’t hesitate.”
Kempf was commended for a save in 1992 when he pulled a man from a second-floor bedroom of a burning home, his son said. Kempf Jr. was quoted in a 2014 Newsday article when he and fellow volunteer Bobby McGee rescued a man from a Central Islip home. The father and son bonded over those experiences, his son said.
“How many chances do you get to pull a guy from a fire?” Kempf Jr. said.
Kempf even met his wife, Bernadette, while marching in the Lindenhurst Firefighter’s parade in 1978.
Besides his wife, son and grandson, he is survived by a daughter, Jennifer Schweigert, 36, of West Babylon, her husband Alby and their children, Aiden and Jiavana, and a daughter-in-law, Samantha. He was predeceased by a daughter, Crystal Ann, born in 1985, who died of SIDS.
Visiting will be at the firehouse from 6 to 9 p.m. on Monday and on Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. A service will held at the West Islip firehouse at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A funeral will be held at the firehouse at 10 a.m. Wednesday and burial will follow in North Babylon Cemetery.
The fire department is asking residents to be aware of potential traffic delays near Union Boulevard and Higbie Lane during this time.