Richard Messina, president of the Nassau County Firemen's Association, had one request when he learned that he would be honored at the county Firefighters Parade in his hometown of Bellmore: that “Papa Pete” Schmalenberger Jr. be named the grand marshal.
Messina met Schmalenberger, who has been a Bellmore Fire Department volunteer for nearly 60 years, while watching him and the other firefighters on Bellmore’s drill team practice. Decades later, Messina said, Schmalenberger remains both a part of his life and a dedicated department volunteer who deserved to be named the grand marshal and an honorary chief for the parade.
“I felt it was something he should be honored with, and he was having a ball at the parade,” Messina said.
Bellmore Fire Department volunteers paid tribute to Messina and Schmalenberger when they hosted last weekend’s Firefighters Parade and Drills, which attracted volunteers from across the county, including from Merrick, North Bellmore and North Merrick.
The festivities kicked off on Friday, at the Four Towns Firemen's Training Center in Merrick, with the Long Island Old Fashioned Racing Tournament Championship, followed on Saturday by the Nassau County Motorized Championship. The firefighters then headed to Bellmore on Saturday evening for the parade.
Messina said that about 50 Long Island fire departments took part in the parade, which ran down Bellmore Avenue and Broadway to Bellmore Fire Department headquarters on Pettit Avenue.
Judges handed out a number of awards, and the Overall Best Appearing Fire Department was the Rockville Centre unit. The North Bellmore department placed second in its division, while the North Merrick Fire Department was third in its class. Bellmore took second in the Best Appearing Juniors and Best Appearing Ladies Auxiliary categories.
Bellmore department representatives said they hosted the parade to honor Messina, a longtime member who was elected to his position with the firemen’s association in May.