When Christopher O’Brien was driving on Sunrise Highway with other local firefighters just before midnight on Dec. 17, 2013, he spotted a sight that he said he would never forget. A massive fire had broken out near the intersection of Sunrise and Newbridge Road at 11:52 p.m. when a tanker truck crashed, turned over, spilled thousands of gallons of fuel and burst into flames that shot 20 feet into the air.
O’Brien, who was the Bellmore Fire Department chief at the time, was in charge of coordinating about 15 units that were dispatched to extinguish the blaze and make sure no one was hurt or killed.
For his hard work directing that response, and his dedication to firefighting through the years, he was recently named by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs as the 2014 New York State Volunteer Chief of the Year. O’Brien was quick to say that he shared the accolade with the many volunteers who extinguished the tanker fire.
“It’s the men and women of the department that make you a good chief,” he said. “I maybe called the plays that night, but they’re the ones who worked hard and knew what they had to do. We all came together, and everyone was awesome that night.”
O’Brien said that he was honored to accept the award from NYSAFC at its annual conference and fire expo on June 12 in Verona, N.Y. – especially because his fellow Bellmore officers nominated him for the honor. Bellmore firefighters and NYSAFC officials said the 31-year-old Bellmore native has demonstrated exemplary leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity, service to the public and contributions to the fire service.
O’Brien has volunteered for the Bellmore Fire Department for his entire adult life. A few days after his 14th birthday, he joined the junior squad, reaching the ranks of lieutenant and captain in four years.
In early 2001, O’Brien joined Engine Company No. 2, receiving emergency medical technician certification that year before becoming lieutenant of the EMS squad in 2004 and captain in 2006. In between, he also became a career firefighter; O’Brien was hired by the FDNY in 2005.