At 92 years old, Fred Reithel is still an active member of the Dix Hill Volunteer Fire Department. The ex-chief and former fire commissioner serves on the department’s fire police unit, and responds to more than his fair share of calls.
“I make my quota and beyond,” he said. “I’m not sitting back with my feet up in the air.”
Earlier this month, Reithel was recognized for his 50 years of continued service to the Dix Hills community. During the department’s August meeting, Reithel received proclamations from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Assemblyman Andrew Raia, the Suffolk County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, the Suffolk County Fire Chief’s Council, the NY State Association of Fire Chiefs and the Fireman's Association of the State of New York.
Reithel, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he read every word of the citations.
“I never brag. Never, never,” he said, but admitted, “I felt a little proud.”
When Reithel joined the department in 1962 at age 41, he said Dix Hills was a vastly different place. There were less than 1,000 homes in the rural community, so most of the calls the department handled were brush fires.
Today, Reithel said, the department responds to anywhere from 2,500 to 2,600 calls in the 27-square-mile fire district, which now houses a well-developed business district and more than 7,000 homes. Although he said firefighters had little to work with a half a century ago, they now have advanced equipment and a comprehensive water supply.
Through the years, Reithel also worked his way through the ranks of the department, serving as a lieutenant for 14 years, chief from 1974 to 1975, and a fire commissioner for 11 years.
Reithel was the chief when current Dix Hills Fire Chief Tom Magno joined the department.
“He's taught me how to respect my other members and he’s affected me, unknowingly, a great deal,” said Magno, 56.
Magno said Reithel is still very sharp and fit, and plays a vital role in the department. He is charged with providing scene safety and traffic control when firefighters respond to a car accident or fire.
“For as long as I’ve known him, he hasn’t changed a bit,” Magno said. “He’s still tenacious and tries to do the right thing.”
Magno also said not a day goes by that Reithel doesn’t stop by the firehouse. Although he raised two kids with his wife, Lily, and is now a grandfather of four, Magno said he considers his fellow firefighters family, too.
“When I sit down, I think back of the people who were here,” he said. “A number of them are gone now, but they were part of my life. There were a lot of memorable days.”
Reithel plans to continue to serve the department as long as he can, adding, “I have no intention of packing it in.”