The Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank hosted a recruitment drive Saturday, looking for new local volunteer firefighters. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday / John Conrad Williams Jr./John Conrad Williams Jr.

As he took a break from working alongside other recruits during fire suppression drills on Saturday in Yaphank, John Kesler Jr., 18, said he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both of who were firefighters.

"I think about the third time when I got on a truck and I geared up and went onto a call, I realized I loved doing it. So I thought, ‘This is definitely what I want to do with my life,’ " said Kesler of West Islip, a trainee in the West Islip Fire Department.

Kesler wears the same badge number as his late grandfather, also named John Kesler, who he never got to meet. When asked if he feels pressure to carry on the family tradition, Kesler said, "I don’t really see it as pressure. I see it as motivation. I feel like I owe it to both of them to be the best firefighter that I can be."

Kesler and others hoping to become the next generation of local firefighters and Emergency Medical Service first-responders were on hand Saturday during a joint recruitment drive in Yaphank.

Some 124 people from various fire departments and communities attended the Saturday event hosted by the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) and the Suffolk County Fire Academy at the academy’s Yaphank headquarters, according to event officials. Of that total, 21 people interested in becoming first-responders signed up.

Patrick M. Beckley, Suffolk County FRES acting commissioner, said the first-ever joint event between Suffolk FRES and EMS officials had been going well, with Saturday’s event getting close to the department’s new recruitment mark of 25. The COVID-19 pandemic had slowed down and made more difficult recruiting new hires for the department, according to Beckley.

"As we see the vaccine roll out, and we’re able to do events like this more and more, we felt obligated to help the fire service in retaining firefighters and recruiting new ones," Beckley said.

Displaying new technology such as firefighting drones that can dispatch payloads to suppress fires and high-tech fire trucks, the event also introduced potential new firefighters and EMS recruits to other tools emergency workers have at their disposal. The event featured K-9 and vehicle demonstrations, antique fire trucks, firefighting equipment, a first-responder classic vehicles showcase, as well as firefighting and rope rescue classes.

Nico Francaviglia, 15, a Mastic Fire Department Explorer, said he enjoyed learning during the K-9 demonstration how fire department dogs can remember certain smells based on food.

"I’ve always had a passion for the fire department as a career. I love the trucks and giving back to my community, helping out people who helped me as a young child, so I’d love to help out my community in the future," said Francaviglia of Mastic.

Gabrielle Marcido, 14, another Explorer from Mastic, said while she had always been interested in helping others, the Sept. 11 attacks motivated her to want to be a firefighter.

"I saw that," Marcido said, "and I thought ‘Someday, I really want to help people that way.’ "

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

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