For Mineola Fire Department Chief Brian Santosus, his election as head of the department in April was a high point in his 24 years in the local volunteer fire service and represented a personal continuity of dedication.
His father, Louis Santosus, was chief during his 54 years in the Mineola Fire Department, and remains active in the department as his son begins his two-year term leading it.
“The fire department is part of a legacy here. It’s an unbelievable feeling to follow in the footsteps of my father,” said the new chief.
The elder Santosus was given the honor of swearing his son in as chief, but he said he only recently felt the full meaning of the family legacy. “I’m very proud of that. It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said.
Apart from the family connection, Brian said he is fortunate to be in command of such an exceptional group of volunteers.
“It feels great. It’s a very rewarding position. I am surrounded by outstanding people who far surpass me in everything we do around here,” he said.
It was his father’s influence that originally drew him in as a member of the Mineola Junior Fire Department when he was 14 years old.
When he was younger, he would wheel his bicycle from his family’s house on Washington Avenue to the corner of Jericho Turnpike as the fire alarms sounded whenever he was at home to see which way the fire trucks were heading.
As he grew older, he would accompany his father whenever he went to the firehouse and go with him when he responded to fire calls.
“I grew up around it,” he said, recalling that his great uncle, Carmine, was also a fire department member and his grandmother, Mary, was a member of the fire department ladies auxiliary.
His mother, Patricia, a longtime member of the Mineola Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, was named Woman of the Year this year.
Brian finally joined the department as a full-fledged firefighter at age 18 when he was a senior at Mineola High School.
In the intervening years, he has served as second lieutenant, first lieutenant and captain of the Engine Company No.1.
He served two-year terms as second assistant chief and first assistant chief before being elected to the department’s top job at age 41.
Brian’s life is all about service. He spent four years in the U.S. Marines, from 1994 to 1998, stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and on reserve duty at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
He has been a fireman in New York City for the past 17 years, currently serving as a lieutenant in Ladder 142 in Queens.
Over his years in the fire services, Brian said the primary changes have been in firefighting equipment and the numerous state regulations that rule both volunteer and professional services.
When he was first in service, rubber boots and long turnout coats were standard gear and firefighters commonly rode on the back of trucks. In the 1990s, he said, fire resistant bunker pants were introduced and composite helmets replaced leather helmets, and fire retardant hoods were added. Heavy 45-minute air cylinders also became standard equipment along with integrated safety systems so firefighters could be located at all times, all of it bringing the weight of what men wear and carry to around 200 pounds.
Recruitment and retention—a problem common to most volunteer fire departments—are the “biggest hurdles.” Brian said he anticipates during his tenure to maintain the 165 active members who currently man the fire service’s three companies.
He aims to draw retirees as recruits, noting that retirees who’ve recently joined the Mineola department “have become some of its biggest assets.”
Santosus said he’d also like to establish a college program, offering students from out of town or out of state who have qualified as firefighters in their hometowns to live in the Mineola firehouse while they attend local colleges such as Adelphi or Hofstra Universities.
Santosus and his wife Teresa, longtime Williston Park residents, have twin daughters, Audrey and Charlotte, who will be starting to attend Herricks High School next fall and a son, Hughie, who attends the Center Street School. They also have a pet dog, Livie.
In his free time, Santosus enjoys camping with his family upstate in the Adirondack Mountains and on the New Jersey shore.