I visited New Rochelle Fire Department Station 5 on Easter Sunday and spoke to Captain Andrew Sandor.
Captain Andrew Sandor (center) with Pete and Danny, the firefighters on duty at NRFD Station 5 on Easter Sunday 2017
Terrance Jackson: How long have you been a firefighter in New Rochelle?
Andrew Sandor: A little over 21 years.
NRFD Station 5
TJ: And how long have you been the Company Commander of Station 5?
AS: I been here since the beginning of 2016, so a little over a year.
Andrew Sandor at the 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K
TJ: What is the hardest thing about being a firefighter?
AS: The hardest thing about being a firefighter, I would say is that we see people at their worst. They’re having a bad day. We have really good training to try to help them with what’s going on.
The call we just came back on, that was easy, someone burnt food, not a big deal. But maybe later today, we’ll go an ambulance call or somebody whatever ailment they have. Or we’ll go a car wreck. Or someone will have water in their basement. Or they’ll have a fire. And now to what extent is the fire effecting their personal life. After a while you become a bit callous to it, because it’s job but you have to remember that you’re dealing with people not just stuff.
Firefighter Kevin Thomas and Lieutenant Brian O’Keefe made their way through the flames to save an elderly unconscious man. They were honored for their courage with Liberty Mutual’s Firemark Award. Cheukping Shiu and Damion Del, representatives of Liberty Mutual Insurance, presented the awards with Chief Louis DiMeglio
TJ: What do you enjoy most about being a firefighter?
AS: The same thing, getting to help people. Especially the guys that I work with, this fire department in particular. That’s why I have always loved New Rochelle. The people here, just something about it. All these different kinds of people working together, getting along, and getting a job done.
And I learned that when I was doing trades. I did cable, tree work, and pizza. And then when I came on the fire department, same thing. All the guys, it didn’t matter what part of New Rochelle they were from, race, color, religion, we’re all the same. And the people we deal with on the street. Being able to have a positive impact on their bad day, trying to help them out a little bit.
Class photo of the 19 recruits from six Westchester fire departments who graduated June 27, 2014, from the Westchester County Career Chiefs Fire Academy and their departments: Top row from left: Neil Brown, New Rochelle; John Cestone, New Rochelle; Connor Dillon, White Plains; Louis Bongo III, New Rochelle; Joseph Lucente Jr., Eastchester. Third row: William Folkerts, Scarsdale, and Peter Keating, Greenville. Second row: Thomas Dooley, White Plains, and John Vernazza, Eastchester. Bottom row: Joseph Dizenzo, New Rochelle; Mark Cleary, Eastchester; Jake Douglass, White Plains; John Howes, Eastchester; Michael Bucci, White Plains; Christopher Feineis, Scarsdale; Frank Vallelonga, New Rochelle; David Kane, Greenville; John Cioffoletti, New Rochelle; and John Kenny, Hartsdale.
(Photo: Westchester County)
TJ: How does one became a firefighter in New Rochelle?
AS: It’s a civil service job, so you take a test. They give a test every four years. So go to civil service office in city hall and fill out an application. Then they send you the information. You take the test and depending on how well you do, you get on the list. And you get ranked on the list. And then they give a physical test, you have to go to the county training center in Valhalla. You have to bust your butt, they go by rank.
[According to the New Rochelle website
: The New Rochelle Fire Department (NRFD) employs new recruits in accordance to hiring procedures established under both Federal and New York State Civil Service Law. To be eligible to be hired by the NRFD a potential employee must pass the New York State Fire Fighter Civil Service Exam as given by the New Rochelle Civil Service Commission.
A potential recruit’s exam result will place in an eligibility list, which is then given to the NRFD to be used to fill vacancies.
These exams are given approximately every four (4) years. The last one occurred in 2015.]
TJ: Why are fire trucks dispatched for medical emergencies?
AS: The geo-graphics of New Rochelle, right now I think there are three ambulances on duty. Sometimes there are only two, like at night. And the one downtown seems like there’re always busy. And every fireman in New Rochelle is an EMT. We all get trained to the level of EMT. So a lot of times, we’ll respond on a medical call with the fire engine, and we’ll be there and initiate care, stabilize somebody. We’ll be there maybe up to five minutes before an ambulance gets there. We’re like basic life support. New Rochelle is fortunate in that respect that every fire firefighter is trained as an EMT.
[According the New Rochelle EMS website: The City of New Rochelle contracts with a commercial ambulance service to provide dedicated ALS Ambulances. Currently the City contracts with Transcare Ambulance Service [Transcare went bankrupt and the current contract is with Empress.] for 2 ambulances 24 hours a day 7 days a week. These units are stationed at Fire Station #1 on Harrison Street and Station #3 on North Avenue. A third ALS ambulance is on-duty from 7am to 7pm (our busiest time). This unit is not assigned to a fire station and is considered a “floater”. In general this unit tries to stag itself on Quaker Ridge Road.
The Engine is called a “First Responder” since it is expected to arrive first on the scene and render emergency care as quickly as possible. After the paramedic ambulance arrives the members of the engine company will assist those paramedics. With this technology and progressive management system, the citizens of New Rochelle are provided with both rapid response and quality care at a time when they are most in need.]
TJ: On the New Rochelle Firefighters website
there are listed five recommendations:
- Raise Crew Size to Safely Fight All Fires
- As a First Step, Raise Crew Size to Safely Fight House Fires
- Proper Supervision for Every Fire Company
- Ensure Acceptable Response Times
- Dedicated Heavy Rescue Crew
Have these recommendations been addressed?
AS: As far as I know, they’ve been noted. And they are being addressed as time goes on. The current climate, not to get too deeply into city hall and the fire department. It seems that things are moving in a positive direction. The city is growing, and the city is realizing the need as these big buildings go up, develop the waterfront, you need to maintain and increase emergency services as well. So, a lot of these things are being addressed.
The 20th-floor fire was likely caused by ‘low-grade’ and overloaded extension cords, according to the FDNY.
TJ: Have you ever had to fight a fire in a high-rise?
AS: We’ve had call in the high-rises. I had small, like microwaves, things of that nature. Nothing really earth-shattering, but other squads have had situations in the high-rises. And again, it’s so man-power intensive, there’re just so many tasks that need to be completed. It really strains our current staffing. We have to do something with that.
159 Thornbury Road on March 13, 2017. Sub-freezing temperatures, nearly a foot of snow and swirling, 20-plus-mph winds added complications.
TJ: What was the most dangerous fire that you helped fight?
AS: There were some decent ones. There was one on Main Street one time. See in a fire, you can go like this [Andrew puts his hand over his eyes] and that’s how it is in a fire. You can’t see what’s going on. But you have find the fire and you have to do possibly a victim search.
So as you are moving around in a five, you are always feeling the floor in front of you. There’ve been fires where you’ll open a door and feel the floor and there is no floor there. You’re like O. K., I guess we can’t go that way, because something is gone. I’ve been in fires, where the whole room is fully involved and you have to go in and put water on the flame.
Off the top of my head, I can sit here and tell war stories. We actually had a fire in Eastchester, once on Christmas. I was a lieutenant. I had the nozzleman in front of me. And he’s advancing with the nozzle and like I said you are feeling the floor as you move forward. And he’s moving forward and he stops. And I’m kind of like, come on, let’s go, keep going, and he said no. Sure enough, we back out and floor is starting to go down. And someone’s living room floor is not suppose to go downhill.
So after the fire is knock down and everything. We go back to room where we were, and there’s a big hole in the floor where the joist had just gone. Had we progressed another four or five feet, we would have gone down into the hole. I’m like thanks dude. Good stop there.
TJ: They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, what is the most important thing that people can do to prevent fires?
AS: Good housekeeping. Pay attention, like common sense. One of the big things that people don’t think about is electrical situations, like overloading power strips. Especially now everybody has computers and all kinds of devices, and stereos, refrigerators, and everything. A lot of the places we go to will have a power strip plugged into a 99 cent extension cord that they got at the dollar store.
TJ: There are a lot old buildings with old electrical systems. Is that a problem?
AS: To an extent. We do fire safety inspections as part of our job. We go around to commercial and multi-family occupancies, and check-out for block exits, exit signs, housekeeping, and stuff like that.
TJ: The NRFD was recently featured on the Today Show. How was it being on television and meeting Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
AS: That was really cool, so you saw that. It was nice to be with guys from the fire department. We got to bring 10 or 15 guys down there and represent the department and represent New Rochelle.
To think about what those race car guys do on a given Sunday. They are out there for four hours beating the hell out of each other with their cars. To meet people like that is pretty cool.
TJ: The segment featured Soap Box Derby cars. What is the NRFD’s role in the Soap Box Derby?
AS: As I understand it, they had the Soap Box Derby years and years ago and it fell out of practice for many years. We have a fireman named Rich Bongiorno, and he and a few other guys brought it back to life. There is also a guy named Dave Satenstein, he and Rich hooked-up. We have been doing it for 15 years now.
The last two years, my son actually won his division in the Soap Box Derby here in New Rochelle. We got to out to Akron, Ohio, which is where they have the National Championships.
Tyler Sandor in Akron, Ohio
TJ: How did he do?
AS: He did OK. We’re out there with the best of the best. The first year, he didn’t win any races. This year he actually won one of his heats, which is a major accomplishment. A guy named Tom Hensler had his girlfriend’s daughter out there as well. My son was in the super stock, and Abby [Abigail Ferguson] is her name, was in the stock division. They each won a heat. For New Rochelle to do that, really says something for our Derby.
Every kid that is out there, they call them champ. The people that run it, the Soap Box people are really cool. Every kid that’s out there all week, they treat them really nice.
Vicky Katsafanas, J.T., Abigail Ferguson, and Tom Hensler.
TJ: So you stay out there for a week?
AS: You stay out there for a week, around Akron, Ohio. It’s a real nice area, nice family area. There’s a lot to do, amusement parks, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is right up the road in Canton. The Soap Box people do races all week and they have events right in Akron. And then Saturday is the big race day.
TJ: Your children names are Hope and Tyler, and Hope also races.
You did your homework. I don’t know if Hope is going to race again this year. Tyler is the one, the last two years, he won his division. Hope racing days might be over, I think, because now she’s into softball. She’s like 15 now and moving on.
Hope, Tyler, and Andrew Sandor
TJ: How did they like going to Rockefeller Center with you?
AS: They thought it was really cool. They thought it was the tops. That whole Today Show atmosphere, everybody is all positive. They’re real nice folks down there.
TJ: Are your kids NASCAR fans?
AS: Yeah, we all NASCAR fans. We like racing. I’ve been following since I was young.
TJ: The Soap Box Derby will take place on June 4th this year. How can people participate?
AS: They can reach out to Rich Bongiorni at Station 1.
[Sign-up and weigh in is Saturday, June 3, 2017 from 10 am to 2 pm, location is to be determined. A limited number of cars from prior years may be available for you to borrow. Contact Rich Bongiorni @ 914-804-4541 for more information. To order a car kit through All American Soap Box Derby and build your own car (http://www.soapboxracing.com/
Holy Name of Jesus
TJ: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about the New Rochelle Fire Department?
AS: Just that man-for-man, I think that the New Rochelle Fire Department, the guys are really squared-away. New Rochelle is very fortunate. I’m not blowing smoke either. They get top guys, mentally, physically, guys are squared-away.
We could always use more guys, like anything. We doing our best. Every guy I know, including these two guys, Pete and Danny, love coming to work there. It’s just something about it. You come here and you’re with good guys. You get to go out and help people.
TJ: You just have a three-man crew?
AS: Up here, right now, for today, we have a three-man crew.
TJ: Because it’s a holiday?
AS: This is our normal crew up here. Believe it or not, there’re only three guys. Again, even to have one more guys when a situation occurs. The way I always liken it to is, people say what do you need all those guys for. Today is Easter. You’re going to have family over today. You’re to break out all those pots and pans, and everything else and cook for somebody, for your big family. You don’t do that everyday, but when you need it, you want to have all your dinnerware. Kind of the same thing with the fire department. You might not need it all the time, but when you need it, you need all those guys. This way other guys don’t have to double-up on their tasks and risk back-strain and muscle, and everything else.
TJ: I didn’t realize that you were that short-staffed where you just have three guys working.
AS: That’s is what we are up against today.
TJ: We were both in the class of 1986 at the United States Naval Academy. Is there anything that you would like to share about your experience at Annapolis?
AS: I loved the hell at the Academy. As you know, it was not a easy place to get though. I definitely got something out of it. You always remember your chow call and stuff like that. Remember that? TJ: Yep. Standing at the end of the hallway: “Sir, you now have 10 minutes to morning formation.“
You know something, what I always take with me, as you go through life you hear quotes and stories, and things you remember. You even have people like John McCain, and another guy, General Stratton, I think was his name, who had been POWs in Vietnam. And they talk about surviving solitary confinement, the mental toughness that they acquired in their plebe year and military training, helped them to maintain a positive attitude and sanity. So that is what I got from the Academy basically.
Andrew Sandor and his dad who is a Korean War Veteran of the Marine Corps
TJ: You later when into the Marine Corps, is there anything about that that you would like to share?
AS: Same thing, just the whole military thing and plus the pride and the people that you meet. Marines are little cocky and arrogant. The Marine Corps, remember has always been all volunteer. They never did drafting. The guys that were in the Marines want to be in the Marines. There’s a real deep sense of pride in that.
I was fortunate enough to progress a little bit, some of the units that I was with, getting more specialized training. And as you do that the people that you meet have deeper character, just real true-blue American people of all walks of life.
TJ: Andy, thank you for your time, is there anything else that you would like people to know?
AS: No. Thank you for your time. It’s an honor and privilege to be asked to talk to New Ro Magazine.
43 Quaker Ridge Rd, New Rochelle NY, 10804
Sal with a copy of New Ro Magazine
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