Five companies, 115 years and 2,500 souls would be one way to quantify the Oceanside Fire Department’s presence in the community through its history, but doing so leaves out the human elements of the longstanding institution.
How, for instance, from 1927 to 1939 one member built and maintained a private zoo near Mott Street, the largest in the country at the time. Or how another founded the Oceanside National Bank, and during the Great Depression refused to collect nearly $9.8 million in late mortgage payments. Or how the department band won 25 of 58 state competition championships — still the record for wins.
All this and much more will be chronicled in a 400-page book to be published next month, celebrating the years since the department’s founding. The release was a long time coming, said OFD firefighters Paul Facella and Bill Lynch, who spearheaded the effort after plans to release a historical account on the department’s centennial anniversary fell through. “Myself and Billy, in particular decided, ‘Let’s do this,’” Facella explained. “Let’s do this for the 115th.”
The pair organized an 18-person committee from members of each of the department’s five companies, and the group spent two and a half years compiling information and historical photos. The book was originally to comprise 250 pages and around 500 photos, but it ballooned to nearly twice that.
Facella figures he has read drafts of the book dozens of times — “Too many,” he joked — but considering the purpose of the release, he said, it was worth it.
“The rationale behind this is that, slowly but surely, as older members die, a lot of the stories and the history goes with them,” he said.
The book contains a history of Oceanside and the development of the Fire Department after its founding in 1902, as well as profiles of prominent or interesting members and chronological histories of each company. “We all collaborated together to give it a kind of continuity,” Facella explained.
The account was done in collaboration with the Hempstead-based Sentinel Innovations Publishing, which last week received the final proof of the book, according to Art Director Marie Beemish. “It’s been a long time in process,” she said of the work. “. . . It’s definitely been interesting.”
Beemish added that she was amazed to see the number of personalities recalled. “It adds a really nice flavor to the book,” she said. Although her company has published other historical accounts for the Nassau County Historical Society, she said, the sheer size of the department’s book was unprecedented.
“It’s very cool,” said Oceanside Fire Chief Kevin Klein, who made history himself as the first member in department history to serve two non-consecutive terms as chief. “It’s something that’s never been done in Ocean-side.”
Klein added that as someone with an interest in Oceanside history, he was excited by the release.
“The committee’s worked so hard on it,” he said. “And when it comes out, it will show.”