The story goes like this: Fred Meuser was fighting a barn fire years ago with the Commack Fire Department when a fleeing mouse ran up his leg.
From then on, his son said, Meuser was known as "Mouse."
"It really had nothing to do with the similarities of the last name," Rick Meuser, of Huntington Station, said of his dad's nickname. "Mice came running out of this barn, one went running up his pants, causing him to scream and make a run for it. To literally, shake a leg …
"Funny thing was he definitely was not a mouse."
The 6-foot, 250-pound Fred Meuser was remembered last month by members of the Commack Fire Department, who presented his family with a commemorative plaque for his lifetime of service. Meuser, who retired to the Poconos and then to Ridge, joined the Commack department in 1960 and served as its chief in the 1980s, remaining a member until his death on Jan. 10. He was 91.
In addition to his son Rick, Fred Meuser is survived by his wife, Ethel; son David of Northampton, Massachusetts; brothers Robert and Kenneth; and two granddaughters.
He also was an uncle to three and great-uncle to four, Rick Meuser said.
The son of German immigrants, Fred Meuser was born on Dec. 15, 1930, in Queens. His parents ran a butcher shop on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica. After graduation from Jamaica High School, Meuser worked as a lifeguard at Atlantic Beach. He met Ethel Somers at Jones Beach, and the two were married on May 19, 1956, at Grace Lutheran Church in Queens Village.
A member of the Civil Air Patrol, Meuser was a devoted attendee of the Jones Beach Air Show. He was a huge New York Giants football fan. His favorite comedian was Don Rickles.
Meuser spent much of his career working for the Town of Huntington.
But, Rick Meuser said, his dad always wanted to be a fireman.
"His older brother Howie was a chief in the East Islip Fire Department, his brother Robert was in the FDNY," the son said. "He just always had an interest in it."
When Fred Meuser underwent an amputation late in life due to cardiovascular disease, he even got a prosthetic leg with the Commack Fire Department emblem emblazoned on it. He later kept a fire radio in his nursing home room so he could monitor calls.
About 100 firefighters, with a ladder truck, flag and spotlights, turned out for his funeral in January.
Commack Fire Department president and former Chief John Bicocchi recalled that Meuser was chief when he joined the department. "He was an old-school guy, all about the men and the community and, of course, putting out fires," Bicocchi said. "He really guided me along the way."
One infamous story involved Meuser becoming separated from his fellow firefighters during a house fire, sparking a frantic search — only to find Meuser, in full gear, using an upstairs bathroom in the burning home.
"His reaction?" his son said. "He told them to shut the damn door."
And after Rick Meuser overrode his father's Do Not Resuscitate order during one hospital stay late in his life, the elder Meuser had a special greeting in store the next morning.
"He promptly gave me the finger," the son said, "though he later admitted he was happy we saved him." He went on to live "many years," his son said.
The Meuser family plans an annual award to honor the Commack firefighter who answers the most calls each year — to be called the Chief Mouse High Quota Award.
Rick Meuser said it'll be in the form of a firefighter mouse doll.