David Fox joined the Flanders Fire Department in 1965, at age 24, for a simple reason: his brothers were members of the department.
Fifty years and hundreds of alarms later, they’re gone now, he said Tuesday. But Mr. Fox remains, no longer driven by family ties, but by a desire to give back to his hometown.
“You still do it for the community,” Mr. Fox said. “To help out.”
That commitment has made Mr. Fox, an ex-chief and former Firefighter of the Year, one of the top responding volunteers in the entire department, even as he enters his 51st year of service. On the 50th anniversary of his joining the department, Mr. Fox was at it again, working in the radio room Monday to coordinate dispatches to a car fire.
“He’s a special guy here,” said Flanders Fire Chief Joseph Petit.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Fox — a former Sears employee, school bus driver and custodian for the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District — was honored as a 50-year department veteran, an honor he shares with only fellow ex-chief Michael DeNicolo.
“He’s one of our tops guys,” said assistant chief John Lennon. “He’s one of our top responders. We can count on him to do anything.”
Mr. Fox joined the Flanders Fire Department’s Pioneer Co. 2 on Nov. 9, 1965, the day of the big Northeast blackout. In the decades that followed, he did a little of everything for the department. He was a front-lines firefighter and also drove the engine company’s brush truck, which years ago was a Dodge Power Wagon and not the specialized vehicle the department uses today.
He was among the first firefighters to head to the 1995 Sunrise Wildfire, which burned about 6,000 acres of the Long Island Pine Barrens and was one of the worst wildfires in Long Island history.
Mr. Fox has also served as a lieutenant, company captain, assistant chief and, in 1975, chief of the department.
Though he doesn’t rush into fires anymore, Mr. Fox is still a constant presence in the department.
In 2012, he was its top responder, helping with more calls than any other firefighting volunteer. In 2013, he won Firefighter of the Year honors for his dedication and service; he was the oldest firefighter to earn the award in the department’s history.
He now works the radio room or heads out on calls to help direct traffic as part of the department’s Fire Police team.
On Tuesday, family members, fellow firefighters and local elected officials gathered at the firehouse in Flanders to pay tribute to Mr. Fox’s remarkable career.
“Fifty years of volunteer service. Wow,” said Peter Cincotta, president of the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association. “In 1965 [when you joined], I was a year old.”
Mr. Cincotta praised Mr. Fox as a mentor to younger firefighters in the department.
Representatives sent by local legislators Fred Thiele, Jay Schneiderman and Ken LaValle presented Mr. Fox with proclamations at the dinner and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst came with a plaque from the Town Board.
Ms. Throne-Holst, who will leave office this January, said Tuesday’s presentation would likely be her last for a local fire department. She said she was glad it was Mr. Fox who she was able to honor.
“It’s been a pleasure getting to know you,” she said, putting an arm around Mr. Fox. “You are a man [who is] really worthy of this.”
Flanders Fire District commissioner Brian Williams had a surprise for his longtime colleague. In addition to a plaque and words of congratulations, he gave Mr. Fox an unexpected present: the framed license plate from a fire department van that Mr. Fox had crashed.
“Here’s your 30 days [notice],” Mr. Williams joked as Mr. Fox and the audience laughed.