Both Joseph Aversano and Alfred Posillico showed humility when recently explaining why they spent the past 50 years as volunteers protecting their Farmingdale neighbors from fires.
"I had to give something back to the community," said Aversano, 80, a lifelong resident of Farmingdale. "I figured I owed the community something, so I stayed." Posillico, who was born in Farmingdale in 1923, and spent his entire life here, had similar reasons. "Somebody's got to do the job," he said. "My father before me and my brother before me were also volunteers."
Although the two were modest about themselves, current South Farmingdale Fire Department Chief Carl Ferrigno did not hold back his praise for the golden anniversary members when reflecting on their contributions. "They built this department," Ferrigno said, referring to their role in the South Farmingdale department. "Both of these guys are very special in their own way, and I'm not saying that because they're mine."
To formally recognize them, the department honored the longtime members at its March installation dinner.
Posillico and Aversano joined the Farmingdale Fire Department in the late 1940s, when South Farmingdale, which did not have a firehouse, was one of the areas protected by it. They were part of a group of firefighters who in 1961 broke away and formed an independent department to serve South Farmingdale. As told by Aversano, the reason for the secession was clear cut. "We figured it was time for us to start our own department," he said.
The task was not an easy one, Aversano explained, noting that it involved such steps as presentations at fire commissioners meetings and the purchase of property on Merritts Road for the firehouse.
Named for the split, the first truck company formed under the new department was called Rebel Engine Company #1, according to Ferrigno. "Joe and Al were both very instrumental in that secession," he said.
In addition to being active in the fire departments and other community service, both men had local livelihoods before retirement.
Aversano, a former commissioner of the department, was employed by Schmidt Hardware on Main Street for 53 years. He and his wife Alice have two children and two grandchildren.
Posillico, a former captain and current commissioner, was employed as an engineer for Grumman for 37 years before retiring. He and his wife, Bobbye, have two children and four grandchildren.
Both cited a fire at the Liberty Industrial Finishing site as one of the most memorable experiences of fighting blazes. Posillico said the incident occurred in the latter part of the 1960's in the bitter cold of winter. "That was a major fire," he said, noting that it took six hours to bring it under control, and that nearby departments were called in to help. "There must have been 10 departments fighting it," he added.
In addition to sharing the anniversary celebration, Aversano and Posillico share a friendship that dates back to before they became fire-fighters, and a deep pride in the department.
They described a strong sense of comradeship between members. For example, Posillico noted that the fact that all the members are volunteers promotes cohesion. "That's the glue that keeps it all together," he said.
Aversano described a strong spirit of cooperation within the department. "Every man in the fire department helps each other," he said. "No one man takes credit for anything."
Both cited an improvement in training and equipment used by fire-fighters as the major change in the fire departments over the years. Posillico noted that, today, "The type of breathing apparatus is more sophisticated and less bulky."
There has been another significant change, however. Although total membership has stayed relatively constant throughout the years, according to Posillico, it is more difficult to retain members today because of increased demands on the time of the firefighters. Many firefighters, he noted, are now working two or three jobs to support their families. "A lot of them just don't have the time to devote to it," he said.
Chief Ferrigno confirmed this, noting that in recent years the department loses young members every year. "Back then, times were different," he said, referring to Aversano and Posillico's early years of fire fighting. He added that now, "It's a different time altogether."
Although neither Posillico nor Aversano still fight fires (the required maximum age for this is 65), both still work tirelessly for the department in other capacities, according to Ferrigno, who added that they are also highly valued mentors. "Although they're not riding the trucks anymore obviously, they're here for everything else," he said. "I guess it's because they were instrumental in the birth of this place, that they want to see it flourish."
Marveling at the length of their commitment to the volunteer position, he added, "Hey, I take my hat off to them."