Baldwinite Donald Hayde said he would consider staying in the New York City Fire Department if given the chance. But after 41 years in the department — during which he became one of the longest-serving uniformed city firefighter in its history — and reaching its retirement age of 65, he also acknowledged that September was a good time to hang up his boots.
“You get to a point where you have to say, why push the envelope?” Hayde said. “You do want to be around to enjoy some of your retirement.”
Hayde, an FDNY battalion chief and a longtime member of the Baldwin Fire Department, went to work for the last time on Sept. 23. “There’s a lot I’ll miss,” he said. “The caliber of the people I served with and the special brand of firehouse humor.”
Those who have worked with Hayde said he is among the best firefighters out there. John Brown, his neighbor and a nearly 50-year veteran of the Baldwin F.D., said one of his best qualities is knowing when not to rush into an emergency situation. “He doesn’t overextend himself, and he knows what he’s getting himself into,” Brown said. “Nobody would ever have a doubt of working with him or working behind him.”
Paul Yanantuono, chairman of the Baldwin Fire District’s board of commissioners, agreed with that assessment. “He has the ability to size up any situation and act accordingly,” Yanantuono said. “He’s incredibly safety conscious.”
Hayde was also recognized for his years of teaching firefighting in Baldwin and at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy. “He’s an incredible firefighter, and he makes us all better,” Keith Eckels, a third-generation Baldwin firefighter, said. “He was always teaching us things in the summer, spring winter or fall. Whatever needed to be taught, he taught it.”
Hayde’s firefighting career started in his hometown of Uniondale, where his grandfather helped found the volunteer fire department and his father served as well. He joined Uniondale in 1971. “I was tagging along with my father in the firehouse, and I became enamored with it,” Hayde said.
In Uniondale, he first met Brown, about 10 years before the two would be in Baldwin together. Baldwin firefighters were assisting Uniondale with a fire that burned a row of stores along Nassau Road, Brown said. “I just remember seeing him in action at the fire, and that was the first time I got to see what kind of firefighter he was,” Brown said.
The excitement of the job made Hayde fall in love with it even more, he said, and six years later, he became an FDNY firefighter. His city career started in Manhattan, and he was later transferred to Brooklyn when he made lieutenant. He was appointed captain in 1994, and in 2001 was named rescue battalion chief, one of the department’s highest ranks.
In that role, he oversaw the five rescue companies throughout the city during special operations, including technical and scuba rescues. But he also worked alongside the firefighters and assisted in extinguishing blazes or rescuing people injured in crashes.
Hayde said he most remembers the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Nov. 12, 2001, crash of American Airlines’ Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, Queens. On Sept. 11, Hayde was home and felt the need to attend the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin. He said he heard a call on his car scanner for a third alarm from the World Trade Center before entering the church, but thought it was a routine fire. After learning of the severity of the situation on the news, he called his wife to say that he was going into Manhattan.
He drove to the Queens-Nassau border, where he jumped into an FDNY truck with another firefighter and later hopped into an ambulance in Brooklyn that was headed to the towers. “It was just mass destruction,” he said of the scene when he arrived.
The days that followed, he said, consisted of searches, rescues and funerals for fallen firefighters. “Sometimes there were six or seven on the same day,” he said. “Everyone was under a lot of stress.”
Hayde moved to Baldwin about 35 years ago and almost immediately joined the fire department. “It’s my community,” he said, “and if people don’t volunteer out here, then you don’t have a fire department.”
In addition to his firefighting knowledge, Hayde is a valued department member because of his kind-hearted spirit, Yanantuono said. “He’s just a nice person and very down to earth,” he said.
In retirement, Hayde said he would continue teaching at the Nassau Fire Service Academy. He also plans to travel, spend time with his family and watch as much of “Judge Judy” as possible.