Edgar Teepe can still remember what is perhaps the biggest fire New Hyde Park ever experienced: the blaze at the Victory Container corrugated box factory warehouse on Plaza Avenue in the mid 60’s, and is now home to .
“It went from that corner all the way through to Nassau Terminal Road,” he said. “It started burning on a Friday night and we were still there Sunday night. Sunday night it was under control and for the next week and a half we went back putting out fires in these big, huge rolls of paper that they made corrugated boxes with because they burned from the inside out.”
Teepe was a young member of the at the time, joining on Sept. 4, 1962, celebrating his 50th anniversary with the department this past Saturday with a party at the auxiliary firehouse on South Fifth Street. In the 102-year history of Protection Engine Co. No. 2, Teepe is the ninth member to have achieved 50 years of service.
“It’s like all the little kids that used to chase the fire truck, go to fires with it, run down the block when the horn went off and I said ‘I’m going to keep right on doing this’ and I joined the fire department in 1962 and I’m still here driving the truck, driving the ambulance, going to fires, putting out fires,” he said when asked how he came to join the department. “I still drive the ambulance, I still drive the big trucks, that’s why I’m staying, I like to drive.”
However, the trucks he drives today is far different than the one when he first joined the department. A 1954-57 Mack pumper with a capacity of 750 gallons was used by the department when Teepe first joined, “which was big for that day,” he notes. Currently the department’s has three 1,500 gallon per minute pumpers as well as thermal imaging cameras and bunker gear instead of rubber boots.
“You had nothing when you went into some of these fires years ago, so there’s been a lot of changes over the years, most of them, 90 percent of them for the better,” he said.
Over the course of five decades Teepe has seen a plethora of changes, everything from the equipment to personnel and even how fires and other situations are dealt with.
“Years ago you went to fire school for 4 weeks, which is 4 nights and now you go to that (and you’re) still going,” he said. “In order to get off of probation these days you’ve got to have like 400 hours of training. And if you want to be in the rescue company you have EMT training on top of that which is another 3 or 4 months of training.”
Today the training is also more concentrated with specialties in dealing with a variety of situations including hazmat, self contained breathing apparatus, basic firefighter training and radiological weapons.
“I try to pass on knowledge, (but) I don’t know how much they look up to me,” he laughs about the other members of the department.
Born in South Jamaica in 1943, Teepe moved to New Hyde Park when he was 7 years old along, living in the village since 1950. A 1961 graduate of , Teepe studied mechanical engineering and received an associates degree in accounting from as well as a Bachelor’s in business administration and master of science from .
He retired from his position as the principal financial analyst in charge of the $3 billion pension fund at Brooklyn Union Gas Company, which would become Keyspan, in 2003. In April 1965 he married Barbara Schoneboom and the couple had a son, William, who lives in Reno, Nevada, as well as two grandchildren, William and Brittney, who were all present for the party as was Teepe’s sister Carol Haufler. In 2010 he received the Town of Hempstead Firematic Service Award.
Among his many medal bars over the left side of his dress uniform, the purple bars of 9/11 stand out.
“I was at work in Brooklyn, I heard somebody scream at work and they said something just crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “I turned around, my desk was at the corner of the building, I had windows and I could see the World Trade Center and I turn around and there’s fire coming out of the North Tower.”
He then called his wife and while on the phone saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
“I saw more than anybody would want to see,” he said. “I had binoculars, somebody said ‘let me see’ and I said ‘no, you don’t want to see this’ and I just locked them up in my desk.”
He would later catch the last train out of Brooklyn for home, changing his clothes upon arrival before going to the firehouse before stops at the various staging areas and helping with the rescue efforts that night at Ground Zero.
During a small speech before the party Teepe remarked that “I’d do it all over again and I plan on being here for another 25 years.”