A 65-year veteran of the North Bellmore Fire Department will be honored at the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center’s annual Badge of Courage Celebration on Oct. 18. Allen Walther, of North Bellmore, who served as chief and commissioner during his tenure, will be inducted into the museum’s Wall of Fame for his contributions to the museum and the local fire service.
Walther died on June 3, a day after his 63rd wedding anniversary. He was 83.
Each year, the museum honors community members for their efforts, and their support of fire safety, prevention and education. Walther’s addition to the Wall of Fame is particularly fitting since he headed the museum’s restoration committee when it first opened, and restored many of the pieces now on display himself.
“He was in charge of a crew of about 10 guys who restored everything from trucks to equipment,” said Angelo Catalano, chairman of the museum board and a 60-year member of the NBFD. “He was interested in saving the heritage of the volunteer fire service and putting it on display.”
Walther joined the NBFD in 1954, at age 18. He primarily served with Smithville South Hook, Ladder & Engine Co. No. 1, moving up the ranks from lieutenant to captain to deputy chief. He became chief of the department in 1973, a year before his 25-year stint as commissioner began. He also served as an advanced emergency medical technician, instructing younger members, performed in the department’s drum and bugle court, played on its softball team and raced with its drill team, the Rinky Dinks.
“His whole life was the fire department,” said Walther’s wife, Joan. “He loved being a firefighter, but the restoration [committee] was the most important thing to him. It’s something that he loved, and dedicated himself to.”
Every Saturday, Walther would get picked up by a friend to go to the museum and work on projects to be displayed to the public. “They would get a truck in, take it all apart and refinish every part of the truck to its original state,” Joan said.
The last project Walther worked on was a ladder from a 1936 Dodge fire truck, which Catalano had described as “decrepit.” “It was all brown and worn and ready to be thrown out, but [Allen] said it could be restored,” Joan said. “He spent six months restoring the ladder.”
The committee was able to mount the ladder on the truck just before Walther died. They also added a silver plaque to the foot of the relic, which reads, “Allen’s Ladder.” “He was able to see the result of what he was trying to do,” Joan added. “The Firefighters Museum kept him busy and happy. [It was] the best thing he enjoyed.”
North Bellmore Fire Chief Brendan Narell described Walther as “one of the senior guys in the department,” and someone you could always look to for guidance. He regularly attended meetings and was “active till the end,” Narell said.
Narell noted Walther’s wealth of knowledge about NBFD members, department history and the fire service itself, and his eagerness to pass those stories on to the next generation.
“I think that’s why he loved the museum so much,” Narell said. “He saw it as a way to preserve the history of the fire department, so kids could appreciate where [it] comes from.”
Narell called Walther’s inclusion in the museum’s Wall of Fame “a fitting tribute.” “Allen was quite the legacy. He was a stand-up guy who always did the right thing, and had the department and the community’s interests in mind,” Narell said. “A big hole was created with his passing . . . It’s great that we’re memorializing him so his legacy and contributions will be noted for years to come.”
Also joining the Wall of Fame this year is Michael Ornauer, a 30-year veteran and a former captain of the Long Beach Fire Department. He previously served as president of the Nassau County Firefighters Parade and as a county fire dispatcher. Ornauer died of a 9/11-related cancer on July 2, at age 60.
John Lee Cronin and Mark X. Cronin of John’s Crazy Socks, a business that benefits the Special Olympics, will receive the Firefighters Humanitarian Award, and News12 anchor Erin Colton will be honored with the Keith Lane Memorial Excellence in Journalism Award.
Anthony Rifilato contributed to this story.