It’s a family affair

Five generations of fire service in Freeport


Eleven men in the Louis family over five generations have been Freeport  firemen — that translates into 121 years of service to the community. “We believe in service,” Kenneth R. Lewis Jr., a fourth-generation Freeport fireman, now 76 years old, said. “It’s part of our family creed.

Lewis family fire service dates backs to the founding of Bayview Hose Company No. 3 in May of 1895. It was in the home of Stephen Lewis, Kenneth R. Lewis Jr.’s great grandfather, that Bayview Hose Company No. 3 was founded as the fifth company of the fledgling Freeport Fire Department. Stephen was the second foreman or captain of Company No.3. He and his brother Clarence, also a charter member of Company No. 3, were expected to pull their hose reels, ladder wagon and steamer engine to the scene where needed during those first years of fire service.        

“Fire response was based on the “ability of the brawny muscular firemen to drag their machinery,” Miguel Bermudez and Donald Giordano wrote in their book, “An Illustrated History of the Freeport Fire Department.” Members of Company No. 3 met in Stephen Lewis’s home until 1899 when the company’s first firehouse was built on Atlantic Avenue, near Bayview Avenue. Stephen Lewis served as captain three times through 1905.

Across the street from the newly built firehouse was the Lewis family’s barn, where the family kept their horses used in their trucking and excavating business. By 1908, the Freeport Fire Department began using horses to carry the heavy equipment to fires and the Lewis family lent their horses to the department.

According to Bermudez and Giordano, Freeport merchants had their horses trained so that when the fire whistles blew, the animals would stand to be unharnessed from a delivery truck and rushed to the firehouse. Clarence and Stephen’s son Arthur P. Lewis ran the Lewis family business and used their horses for fire service. “They were volunteers, just like the men,” Kenneth said. “My grandfather said his horses knew to come to the firehouse when they rang the bell.” Once inside, they went into the stalls, where “there were these drop harnesses for the horses,” he said.

In 1914, Bayview purchased seven riding rings for their truck, according to Bermudez and Giordano. Riding rings allowed six firemen to hang on to the truck on the way to a fire. “Otherwise you went to a fire by foot, bicycle or your own horse,” Kenneth said.

No more is known about Clarence Lewis. Arthur Lewis served twice as a captain for Company No. 3, and his brother Harold was also a firemen. But some time after 1910, there was a “family tragedy,” and the brothers resigned from the fire department.

In 1921, Arthur’s son, Kenneth L. Lewis, joined Bayview Company No. 3. He served in the Freeport Fire Department for more than 50 years, retiring in 1974. Kenneth L. was chief of the Freeport Fire Department from 1943 to 1944, assisting in the war effort by “buying defense bonds, blacking out windows in the firehouse, having members sleep in so the firehouse would be constantly manned, lowering the thermostat in the winter and directing members to respond to their firehouse during monthly air raid drills,” wrote Bermudez and Giordano. Seventy-six members of the Freeport Fire Department served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, according to Bermudez and Giordano.

Kenneth L. brought his sons, Arthur “Artie” and Kenneth R., to the firehouse often and instilled in them the importance of community service.  “I was 3 years old when my Dad was chief, and as long as I can remember, it was just a given that you would serve your community,” Kenneth R. said.

Brother Artie joined the department in 1953, serving as captain of Bayview Company One and chief from 1976 to 1977; he is still active in the fire department.

Kenneth R. joined in 1958, the same year as the Crystal Lake Hotel fire. Crystal Lake Hotel was a sprawling and famous show business resort built in 1900 on South Grove Street. Kenneth R. had just put his application in and wasn’t allowed to fight the blaze but recalls the fire. “It was a huge fire, fully involved,” he said. Bermudez and Giordano described the blaze as “one of the most spectacular fires ever seen in Freeport.” During his tenure, Kenneth R. was in charge of the fire department’s color guard and blood drive. Artie has been involved in the Firemen’s Association for the State of New York and the Nassau County Firemen’s Association, and is a trustee of a fireman’s home in upstate New York. “My brother and father spread out while I concentrated on this [fire] house,” Kenneth R. said.

Fifth-generation fire department members included Artie’s two sons, Arthur M. Lewis and Jay Lewis, both one-time captains and Kenneth R.’s son, Kenneth Jr. “My daughters also wanted to join, but I discouraged that. They married firemen instead.” Kenneth R. smiled. A cousin, Wallace Lewis also served in Bayview Company No. 3.

“We’ve followed in each other’s footsteps,” Kenneth R. said. But fifth-generation members have moved out of the village. “We’re the last of the line,” he said. Yet, for the Lewis family, the fire fighting tradition lives on. Kenneth R.’s grandson Ryan Alexander Reed Lewis is an airman first class with special training as a firefighter. “He always wanted to be a fireman,” said Kenneth. “He’s like the rest of us, but a professional.”