The Mineola Fire Department Junior Firefighters were honored in a Village Hall ceremony last week for being rated the state’s top junior fire department by the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY).
The Mineola Juniors are the first firefighter youth group on Long Island to win the prestigious annual award. Approximately 400 of the 500 firefighter groups statewide are registered with FASNY.
“We have groups all over the state. This group is an elite group,” said FASNY President Robert McConville at last Wednesday night’s ceremony to present the Mineola Juniors with a plaque recognizing them as 2016 Youth Group of the Year.
“You have a proud history and we look forward to you carrying forward. We’re proud of the juniors,” Mineola Fire Department Chief Jeff Clark told the Mineola Juniors present at the ceremony.
The Mineola Junior firefighters, currently comprising 25 members, are part of a legacy that began in 1976 when the junior group was created as a training and recruitment component of the fire department.
“It’s a feeling of joy,” said Mathieu Istri, Mineola Juniors captain, after receiving the award on behalf of his fellow firefighters. “I feel inspired to be leading these young men who will be firemen some day.”
He said the Mineola Juniors are part of a “special brotherhood no one else has.” They’re together at least three days a week in training sessions at the fire department’s Washington Avenue headquarters, he said, and they spend much of their free time together too.
Istri, 17, a junior at Mineola High School, said he’s looking forward to becoming a full-fledged volunteer of the Mineola Fire Department in a few months. He said he also plans to take the test to become a member of the New York City Fire Department.
Clark said the award was a “testament” to the work of Gary Mazur and Bill Gresalfi, longtime Mineola Juniors advisors, and their several assistant advisors for maintaining the group’s high standards.
“We hope they join the fire department. But the biggest thing is community service,” said Mazur, who added that more than 75 percent of those in the junior firefighter program join one of the MFD’s three companies. “They’re a great bunch of kids.”
After Hurricane Sandy struck, Mazur said the juniors had served two days in Long Beach before Thanksgiving and served meals to nearly 1,000 residents in Far Rockaway on Thanksgiving.
“These kids worked so hard for this,” Gresalfi said.
Gresalfi said the juniors are thoroughly trained in firefighting techniques and are tested to qualify for support service at fire scenes. In the fire department’s ride-along program, the junior firefighters can ride fire trucks, if there’s seating room, to fire scenes, where they can assist in crowd control, maintaining air tanks and wrapping up hose afterward.
He said when one young teenage girl in the family of a Mineola FD member was stricken with leukemia, the juniors held a fundraiser and a blood drive that drew donations of 100 pints of blood.
“They the greatest guys I know,” Istri said of his men.
The Mineola Juniors are leaving an impression around the world as well. They have made two trips to Germany to train with 11 junior groups from Hamburg, and have been host to the young German firefighters twice. A few years ago, a Japanese delegation of government and fire service leaders visited New York to gather information to enhance their fire prevention programs.
Mineola officials said the Japanese group met with the FDNY and then met with the Mineola Fire Department to observe a successful youth-centered fire service organization in action.
“It’s the backbone of the fire department,” said Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, an ex-chief of the department and an assistant advisor to the juniors and trained as one of them. “They’re taught by their advisors the true value and spirit of community service. On behalf of a grateful village, we congratulate you.”