Cara Pouletsos had no idea why Terryville Fire Department Chief Thomas Young was at her Comsewogue High School prom on June 19, wearing his full Class A uniform.
Turns out, he and his fellow firefighters had a very important call to answer -- being there for one of their own.
They had already shown their support after Cara’s dad, John, a former chief and commissioner with the Terryville Fire Department, was laid to rest after dying of a heart attack on March 29 at age 67. Cara’s mom, Cheryl, herself a member of the Terryville department, said she couldn’t go to the firehouse to answer an alarm without 10 people hugging her and asking how she was doing.
But now, it was time to close ranks around an 18-year-old senior and junior firefighter who was going to celebrate her prom and graduation without her dad.
On prom night, Young led a 20-firefighter contingent that arrived to show their support and snap a photo with Cara at The Watermill in Smithtown. Cara said she was overwhelmed by that gesture -- but the department wasn’t done.
Two days later, Terryville firefighters showed up for the Comsewogue graduation ceremony at the school’s football field, and let Cara know they were there when her name was announced.
“When they called other people’s name,” Cara remembers, “[some of] their families would have an air horn and when they’d hear their kid’s name they’d blast the air horn. Well, I didn’t just have an air horn. I had three fire trucks, an ambulance, a whole bunch of other fire apparatus, blasting their horns, blasting their sirens, blasting their lights.”
Cheryl Pouletsos said Young approached her a couple of days after John’s death and asked if the department could do something in his memory for Cara. John Pouletsos had served the Terryville Fire Department for just shy of 50 years, and the firehouse and the Pouletsos family had become intertwined.
John and Cheryl actually met answering a call while he was captain of the engine company, and many years later John would get out of bed after turning in for the night when Cara returned from junior firefighters events to ask her how things went.
“Your life depends on each other,” Cheryl, 56, explains of the firehouse atmosphere. “It’s not just your physical life, but your emotional life as well. So when all of this happened, we kind of got scooped up by the love and support that the members offered continuously.”
Cara will be attending LIU Post and is in the process of joining the Terryville Fire Department after her stint as a junior firefighter -- the same route her dad took before his years of service.
“It just means a lot to me,” Cara said of the department’s support. “Because just knowing that they’re there, it’s like he’s with me also.”