'Cool grandmother' and 21-year firefighter elected Fire Island community's first female fire chief
Linda Spencer says it wasn't really a big deal to her when she was elected Davis Park's first female fire chief.
That is, until she remembered something her 8-year-old granddaughter told her.
"My granddaughter said that I’m a cool grandmother, so, yes, I think it’s significant," Spencer said. "It’s significant for this little girl, anyway."
Spencer, 67, a 21-year firefighter in the small Fire Island summer community, achieved the milestone on Oct. 2 when she was sworn in after fire department members and the board of fire commissioners voted for her to succeed Tom Sutherland as chief. Previously, she was first assistant chief.
The retired teacher from upstate Peekskill will serve a two-year term in the unpaid position. As chief, she'll supervise a 30-member department that responds to 20 to 30 emergencies a year.
With no paved roads, the Davis Park department uses pumper trucks and other vehicles with soft tires for traversing sand, she said. Some trucks are built for traveling on narrow boardwalks.
Spencer said Davis Park, which has about 280 homes and a smattering of shops, has had a special place in her heart since she was a little girl, when her parents, Robert and Marian Spencer, took the family there for summer vacations.
She said her late father, who worked in the Manhattan advertising and publishing industries, received fire department badge No. 1 in the 1960s after he helped to resurrect the department following a period of dormancy.
Marian Spencer, now deceased, loved the place so much that even when winter came and utilities were shut off, she and her four children would stay there after Robert returned to Manhattan. The children were tasked with collecting water in garbage pails from an artesian well, Linda Spencer said.
"I consider Davis Park my hometown because I was there six months a year until I was 13," she said. "My mother wouldn’t leave the beach. … In those days, we didn’t have a lot of electricity. We read a lot of books. She just wanted to be at the beach."
Steve Clifford, chair of the Davis Park board of fire commissioners, said Spencer followed the same path as her predecessors to become chief, moving steadily up the ranks after taking command classes at the Suffolk fire academy in Yaphank. Spencer's gender never was an issue, he said.
"I don’t expect her performance to be different than anyone else’s," Clifford said. "To us, it’s not an issue. It’s how well you do your job. ... The fact that someone is a man or a woman doesn’t play into it. It’s not even a consideration."
Other women may soon get a chance to succeed Spencer, who noted that there are several other women in the department, including one who has earned the rank of lieutenant.
"I’m comfortable working with guys and hopefully they’re comfortable working with me," she said. "Being a grandma, I wanted to make sure I take care of the members. It’s second nature to want to make sure there’s something for breakfast for the members. I want to make sure they’re looked after."
She's the chief
Linda Spencer is the first woman to serve as chief of the Davis Park Fire Department.
Background: Grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson
Residence: Peekskill, Davis Park summer residence
Job experience: Former teacher in Yonkers public schools for 29 years; also taught in private Montessori schools. Retired five years ago.
About the job:
Term: Two years
Duties: Supervise about 30 volunteer firefighters
Emergencies: 20 to 30 calls per year