Farmingville firefighter Nick Alfano takes a breather on top of...

Farmingville firefighter Nick Alfano takes a breather on top of a brush truck near a command post on Wading River Manor Road in Manorville. (April 10, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

A lawyer, a mechanic, an ambulance driver, a deli clerk.

Varied are the volunteers who fought this week's brush fires.

They drove through the burning woods, hoses in hand, managing both their zeal and fear.

Hot and tired, they rested only briefly, and when they ran out of water, they pounded the ground with the backs of their shovels -- anything to stop the blaze from tearing an even wider path through Ridge and Manorville.

"You use whatever you have when you don't have water," said Carmine Martino, 44, who designs fire alarms and has been a firefighter for 18 years.

"It looked like a war zone," said Donnie Sallah, 46, an attorney who has been fighting fires for a decade. "Everything was burned out -- all gray and black."

As they and Russell Gallinat, 46, an auto mechanic, drove down Wading River Road, they beat back fires on both sides, Gallinat said, and they saw about 40 deer run out of the smoke-filled woods and jump into a nearby pond.

The trio, Manorville Fire Department volunteers, fought the fire most of Monday evening and returned to the site around 6 a.m. Tuesday after a couple of hours of sleep.

"It's an adrenaline rush, but you do it because you want to help someone," said Martino, who also battled the massive 1995 Sunrise fire.

At the height of the fire, Chuck Hambsch, 62, a former Manorville fire chief and still a volunteer, said, "You feel intense heat heading up to you and you hear a roar. It could be a little interesting when it starts coming at you. We were in front of it for a time and it looked like it was getting bad, so we skirted off to the side until we could get it again."

Eastport Fire Department volunteer Bill Weick, 38, had a picture on his cellphone taken behind Paul and Margaret Dill's house in Manorville. Spectacular orange flames towered over 70-foot-high trees. When asked what went through his mind, he said, "We need more people."

Donald DeStefano, 46, an ambulance driver at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, and Travis Sass, 22, a DJ and construction worker, took a break at the command center at Saints Peter & Paul Church in Manorville after fighting the fire for three hours as members of the West Islip Fire Department.

They rode into the wooded area in a brush truck, which can cut through leaves and branches. Six volunteers stood on the truck operating hoses. Visibility was near zero.

"There was smoke all around the truck like fog," DeStefano recalled.

Fires sparked up around them, and Sass said they were pelted with branches falling from burning trees.

"You're getting hit in the face," he said. "You have to duck and still keep putting the water on the flames. You can't have tunnel vision."

Despite the danger, they were anxious to get back into the fire.

"I just like being involved," DeStefano said. "This is why I do this."

Billy Theobalt, 17, and Lt. Danny Keegan, 24, of the St. James Fire Department were sitting next to the side of a church, eating sandwiches provided by the Salvation Army.

Theobalt, a deli clerk, and Keegan, an EMT in Queens, had just returned from mop-up work, hiking into the woods carrying shovels, rakes and water canisters, and turning over dirt onto smoldering embers.

Keegan, a volunteer firefighter for 61/2 years, worked Monday night as an EMT in Elmhurst. After finishing his shift, he went home around 4:30 a.m., got an hour of sleep and headed to the fire scene on Long Island.

Mike Scalamandre, 50, was getting off work as a truck driver for the construction company building the new Delta terminal at Kennedy Airport at about 5 p.m. Monday when the Manorville department paged him.

He sprayed the blaze from a moving truck.

"It makes a sound like a freight train," said Scalamandre, a volunteer firefighter for 30 years. "It's roaring and coming at you."

Sal Russo, 48, a Farmingville volunteer, stood near Oakwood Road where he and several others battled the fires overnight. At 10 a.m., he was operating on just an hour's rest.

Russo, an electrician, joined the department last October at his son Dominic's urging.

Sweaty and peppered with black ash, he beamed, "I love it. We got three brothers and a father here. I am the father. I only joined because of my boys. They all volunteer."

With Jo Napolitano

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