A photo believed to be from the late 1930s or...

A photo believed to be from the late 1930s or 1940s, shows some of the earliest members of the Centereach Volunteer Fire Department outside the old headquarters. Credit: Handout

Just as the hamlet of Centereach has evolved and grown during the past 80 years, so has its firefighting force.

When the Centereach Volunteer Fire Department was formed on March 9, 1933, in response to concerns over forest fires, there were only 628 homes in the hamlet and firefighters worked out of a modest wooden building using only one truck. Today, the department’s 180 volunteers, organized into five companies, respond to calls ranging from car accidents to structure fires throughout Centereach, now home to nearly 20,000 residents, and a small portion of Lake Grove.

The equipment available to the volunteer firefighters has improved vastly, yet one thing remains constant: their motivation to serve.

“It feels good to give back to the community,” said firefighter Dennis Vasquez, 40, of Centereach, a 23-year member of the department.

To celebrate the brave men and women who have come before them and the success of the department, the Centereach Volunteer Fire Department kicked off an 80th anniversary celebration on Wednesday.

Outside the department’s headquarters at 9 South Washington Ave., a carnival will continue from 5-11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, from noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It will feature rides, games, food, live music (on Saturday night only) and a casino Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All proceeds will be go to the department.

Centereach firefighters will also be marching in a parade on Saturday evening, along with local scouts, and members of 10 neighboring fire departments. There will be both current and antique fire vehicles on display in the parade, which will kick off at 4 p.m. on South Coleman Road. It will proceed nearly two miles west to the main firehouse and carnival site on South Washington Avenue.

The department is also hoping to use its 80-year milestone as a means to grow its historical collection. According to Julia Wilson, chairwoman of the Centereach Fire District Board of Commissioners, the department does have an extensive array of old photos, equipment and call run sheets, one of which details a chicken coop fire. But she is encouraging current and former residents to donate any photographs they may have of the department’s members in action over the years.

Wilson said these photos could be incorporated into the display that the department erects each October in the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach for Fire Prevention Month.

“Our history is the community's history,” she said.

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