The Baldwin Fire Department recently honored one of its long-time members. Fire commissioner, Robert Quackenbush, for 40 years of distinguished service.
His fellow firefighters held a ceremony at the Rose Boulevard Firehouse in Baldwin, where family members, friends and co-workers paid tribute to a man who has dedicated much of his life to the Baldwin community.
Quackenbush, 65, a lifelong Baldwinite, joined the department in 1977, after Tom FitzSimons, an ex-chief, introduced him to the company. “His sister and my wife are best friends, and that’s how I met him...” FitzSimons recalled. “He started asking questions about the Fire Department, and I said, ‘Why don’t you come on down?’
“He’s done a great job for the people of Baldwin,” FitzSimons added.
Quackenbush steadily climbed the ranks over the years, becoming department secretary in 1979, second lieutenant in 1980, first lieutenant in 1981 and captain in 1982. In 1983, at age 31, he was elected the youngest commissioner in the department’s history.
“I can’t believe [it’s been] 40 years,” he said. “It’s overwhelming. I’m the guy that likes to stay in the background and get things done … I’m not used to being thrust into the limelight.”
“We met in fourth grade, so I’ve known him all my life,” said Jerry Brown, the department’s district supervisor. “We started at Schubert [Elementary School], went to high school together, and ended up at the same fire company together.”
“He’s kept me out of trouble for 40 years,” Brown said of Quackenbush. “I spend my time getting in trouble, and he spends his time getting me out of trouble.”
One of his most memorable days on the job, Quackenbush said, was in 1981, when he rescued a young girl from a basement fire in Baldwin. He remembered the day clearly, and while he does not recollect the girl’s name, he recalls in vivid detail the events leading up to the rescue. “You don’t forget those,” he said.
He had been conducting a perimeter search, checking the house for survivors before the hose company put out the fire. Over the years, he said, “you do probably a thousand searches, and don’t find anybody … but when you do, you can’t believe it when it happens.”
He remembered crawling around the basement floor as smoke filled the room, blindly calling out and feeling around for anyone who might have been trapped by the fire, when he found the girl. “You can’t see anything, you know?” he recounted. “There’s zero visibility, so you’re only going by feel, and when I hit the back of her neck, her hair was burned off, and I felt skin.” He was called a hero by his colleagues for that rescue.
“He’s a wonderful guy, he’s a sweetheart, and he’s really served this community well over the past 40 years,” said County Legislator Laura Curran, who presented Quackenbush with a citation at the celebration. “As a Baldwin resident, I’m grateful he’s worked to keep us safe.”