From The New Hyde Park Herald by Rich Tedesco
After 50 years in the New Hyde Park Fire Department, Edgar Teepe can't even estimate how many fire or rescue calls he's answered.
Teepe, 69, continues to respond to respond to rescue calls these days as a driver, and figures he's answered more than 5,000 calls in the last nine years since retiring from KeySpan.
"All I do now is drive the ambulance," the two-time firefighter of the year said modestly.
In addition to department service and emergency medical service awards, Teepe was also recognized in 2010 with the Town of Hempstead Firematic Service Award.
He said the recognition he received is primarily due to the varied service he’s rendered, not because of any exemplary incidents.
But on Saturday Teepe was honored for what his peers consider exemplary service at a New Hyde Park Fire District dinner where he was made an honorary chief.
"I'm very honored to have been here this long and for the fire district to make me honorary chief. I never thought I'd be here this long," he said.
New Hyde Park Fire Department Chief Robert Von Werne said Teepe continues to serve a vital role in the local fire service.
"After 50 years of service, Honorary Chief Teepe continues to be a tremendous asset to the New Hyde Park Fire Department," Von Werne said. "In addition to his duties as Fire Department secretary, Chief Teepe regularly drives our ambulances to rescue calls. Chief Teepe has literally driven thousands of residents to area hospitals over the years. His level of participation and dedication to the Department and community are unmatched."
A New Hyde Park resident since his parents moved there in 1950, Teepe joined Protection Engine Company 2 at age 18 shortly after graduating from Sewanhaka High School.
"When I turned 18, I got on the list. I had friends who were members ways back when," he said.
He said his interest in fire fighting was sparked years before, when he watched the New Hyde Park volunteers in action as a youngster.
"I guess like all the kids, I used to follow the fire trucks. I used to go to fires on my bicycle," he recalled, finding the fire locations posted in the alarm boxes.
Last week, Teepe marked the 50th anniversary of being sworn into the department on Sept. 4, 1962. He was chief driver in the Protection company in 1966 and 1967, and quickly rose in the ranks, becoming second lieutenant in 1969, first lieutenant in 1970 and serving as captain in 1971 and 1972.
Teepe is currently treasurer of the fire department's subscription committee and has served as department secretary since 1991 in his latest stint in that position. He also served as department treasurer in 1979 and 1980.
He's also secretary/ treasurer of the department's Termites drill team, a unit he's been involved with since 1964.
Teepe joined the New Hyde Park Fire Department Police Unit in 1981 and the following year was elected captain, a position he still holds today.
After his term as Protection company captain, he decided to move into emergency medical service after responding to a multiple-injury auto accident on Mother's Day in 1972. A station wagon with seven people in it was struck head on that night on New Hyde Park Road by a car with its heads lights off.
"I still remember seeing them putting people in the ambulance and thinking, 'There's nothing I can do'," Teepe said.
Teepe said he decided then to get trained as an emergency medical technician. He took advanced medical training and continued in that role until 1998, when work commitments prevented his taking a refresher course. With that training, to be able to use a defibulator and administer drugs intravenously. He said he’s been able to save more than one person in cardiac arrest over the years.
"It's worked a couple times. More often than not, it doesn't," he said.
While obtaining a bachelor's degree in business administration from Adelphi University, followed by a master of science degree, Teepe started working at the Brooklyn Union Gas Company as a file clerk in 1963. He eventually retired in 2003 as principal financial analyst overseeing the $3 billion pension fund for the KeySpan companies.
He said the most memorable fire he participated in started when he leaving work one Friday just two years after he became a volunteer firefighter. Announcements on the Long Island Rail Road train he was on said all trains were going no farther than Floral Park due to a fire in New Hyde Park.
Jumping in his car, which he regularly parked at the Floral Park station, Teepe sped to the scene of the Victory Container fire on Plaza Avenue, arriving at 6 p.m. At midnight, he said he was relieved from duty at the scene. But he returned the following day, spending that Saturday and Sunday with firefighters from his own department and neighboring departments battling the smoldering blaze.
"It was a huge plant and they probably had 1,000 rolls of paper stored out in the yard," he recalled.
Tepee said he returned to the scene throughout the following week, as the rolls of paper kept on sparking new fires until they were eventually removed from the scene.
Apart from that fire, Teepe recalls a couple of epic lumber yard blazes and rescues too numerous to recount.
He said he's witnessed quantum leaps in technology over the years, from rubber suits to fire retardant protective gear and air tanks. The Protection Company's pump truck when he joined could spray 7,500 gallons of water per minute, while its current pumper puts out twice that capacity. The only radios in those early days were in the trucks, while mobile radios and cell phones are primary communication tools today.
Apart from the technical changes, his motivation in the fire service has also evolved. There was a sense of excitement in his early years of fire fighting, he said. But that has given way to a deeper motivation related to his service in the First Presbyterian Church of New Hyde Park, where he is an ordained elder.
"Years ago, it was mostly just fire calls and the thrill. To keep going, especially with rescue calls being 75 to 80 percent of your calls, something else has got to keep you going." Teepe said. "I would hope that's part of it."