South Hempstead Fire Department honored its late ex-chief, past fire commissioner and 69-year member Frank H. Degen, badge 294, last week. He was the longest active member in the department’s history.
Degen lived in South Hempstead since 1947 and joined the South Hempstead Fire Department in August 1950. In 1952, he joined the U.S. Navy and became a First Class Seaman. He completed his tour of duty in 1956 and returned to South Hempstead, wanting to stay there even though his parents had moved, and he had no place to live.
Degen ended up sleeping in the fire department’s ambulance for a few nights until fire department member Ted Jackson let him stay in an extra room in his house. Degen lived there for the next seven years until he married his wife, Nancy, and settled in town.
In 1957, Degen was elected Lieutenant in the fire department. He continued to climb up the ranks, becoming Captain in 1959, second assistant chief in 1962, first assistant chief ’63 and chief in ’64.
After completing his term as chief, he was on the Board of Fire Commissioners for 35 years. He won the Nassau County Firematic award in 2001 for 50 years of service and was named South Hempstead’s Fireman of the Year in 2008.
Aside from volunteering, he worked for LILCO briefly, NY Twist and Drill for 35 years and for the Village of Rockville Centre, starting in the mailroom.
Degen loved coffee, landscaping and sports. He played on a fire department basketball team and flag football team in the ‘70s. He was also on the fire department bowling team for 30 years.