When fire broke out at the Piccola Bussola restaurant, a community responded. As smoke billowed from the rear of the building many neighbors called 911 to report the fire. Mineola volunteers began gearing up as additional firefighters left their homes and workplace, and responded to the firehouse. But in the first few minutes of the chaotic scene, several everyday citizens stepped up and became heroes.
Roberto Oliveira was working at United Auto Center when he saw the thick black smoke coming from the adjacent building. Knowing that the apartments above are home to many young children he immediately raced up the stairs. He found a family beginning to evacuate. He insured that the three young children and two adults were out and then went back in to check on the last apartment. Finding the door locked he kicked it in to make entry and search the apartment. Thankfully no one else needed to be evacuated.
At Village Hall, Building Superintendent Dan Whalen and custodians John Lodikeit and Tom O’Brien also saw the smoke and flames coming from the roof and ran towards the building. Dan and Tom are both veteran volunteer firefighters. They quickly conducted a primary search of the second floor and relayed actionable information to the first arriving firefighters. Simultaneously, John entered the adjacent businesses checking for fire spread and began evacuating the patrons from these locations.
As firefighters initiated an aggressive attack, the fire rapidly expanded and a ceiling collapse further hampered efforts. The heat of the day also began taking a toll and several firefighters suffered injuries. Standing on the sidelines many local business owners watched in awe as the brave volunteers battled the conflagration. Rosa and Tony from Arditos knew they had to help. They began preparing “fuel” for the firefighting machine. They brought out countless drinks and sandwiches. Churrasquiera Bairrada and Dunkin Donuts also brought refreshments to the scene.
When the smoke cleared, the reality set in. Mineola had lost a valued neighbor in Piccola Bussola. But perhaps even more tragic, two families were left homeless and had lost all of their possessions. Once again the community rallied in support. Calls for donations began appearing on social media and the support was overwhelming. Children’s clothing and supplies came in such volume that the organizers had to request that donors hold off after only a day. Within hours, a local resident had put up a GoFundMe site and thousands of dollars were raised.
Ironically, it has often been Tony Lubrano and his team at Piccola Bussola who have supported the community. Every year, Tony coordinates a team of runners for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run to support military and first responders. During the holidays, Tony is a staple at the village tree lighting offering cocoa to the community. During COVID-19, he regularly supplied meals to first responders in hospitals as well as fire houses.
Mineola prides itself on being known as “the friendly village.” The collective action of village employees, volunteer firefighters, business owners and residents demonstrate that this is more than a motto. It is truly a culture of caring.
—Submitted by Chief Robert Connolly, Mineola Fire Department