Rockville Centre firefighting runs in the Cook family


Serving the village for 64 years, the family of Rockville Centre Fire Chief Brian Cook is now on its third generation of firefighting.

Cook’s son, Johnny, 18, became a probationary firefighter last February. His grandfather, Tom, swore him in as captain of the village’s Junior Fire Department — at 15, he was the youngest captain ever — and Brian had the honor of swearing him in to the department earlier this year.

“It’s actually really cool,” said Brian, 48, who took over as chief of the department last year. “My father is proud that his son and grandson are following in his footsteps.”

Tom, 81, an honorary chief, joined the department in 1954. Brian followed suit, joining in 1985. “[It was the] family aspect and brotherhood that attracted me to it,” he said.

Brian recalled the first call he responded to with his father since being inducted, during the summer of 1988. There was a barbeque fire caused by people grilling; Brian and Tom arrived with other firefighters, containing the blaze and securing the propane tank. “Everyone went home safely,” he said.

While the fire department is made up of a number of fathers and sons, Brian said, it is rare to have a grandfather-father-son team. Though his father decided to stop actively firefighting last year due to health concerns, he is still active back at the firehouse, where he sits in on training sessions and does administrative work.

“It feels good; something to be proud of,” Tom said. He has been involved in Rockville Centre affairs his whole life, he added, and noted that his wife was a dispatcher for the Rockville Centre Police Department. Although it surprised him when Brian joined at 18 years old, he felt “it almost came automatic,” because of how often the two spent time together at the firehouse.

“It’s been a good [64] years,” he said. “I’m happy here. I’m happy to serve … and I’m hoping the same for my son and grandson.”

“It’s probably the reason why I wanted to become a fireman, because of them,” Johnny said. Throughout his childhood, Johnny went with his father to celebrations with the department on Christmas and Memorial Day, as well as on calls.

Johnny recalled riding along with his dad at 15, when a man got into a car accident on Sunrise Highway and stopped breathing. His father performed chest compressions while Johnny manned the oxygen bag until help came. “By the time the ambulance arrived, he had a pulse,” Johnny said. They had saved the man’s life together.

Today, Brian and Johnny are participating in training drills together. At Johnny’s first class at the Nassau County Fire Academy, they participated in a live burn training exercise, during which Johnny, manning the nozzle, and Brian, serving as a backup, weaved in and out of blazing rooms in a building as the hose extinguished the flames.

More recently, Johnny responded to two real fires. On April 12, a former bank on Lincoln Avenue currently under construction caught fire around 2 a.m. and Johnny was first on the scene, helping stretch the hose for fellow department members to put out the blaze. On May 29, a tanker truck set ablaze on Sunrise Highway around noon. He arrived first again, this time getting closer to the action by serving as backup on the hose line behind the firefighter controlling the nozzle.

Johnny hopes to keep firefighting for as long as his father and grandfather did, and to continue the tradition with his children, for a fourth generation. It would be cool, he said, to have “another generation of Cooks.”