Richard Weigele is celebrating 50 years of service at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department. (Photo courtesy Richard Weigle)

Fighting Fires For Fifty Years

Richard Weigele honored by Manhasset-Lakeville FD

On May 11, the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department (MLFD) will hold a celebration to honor Richard Weigele for more than 50 years of service. Weigele has held numerous positions within the Fire Department and dedicated his adult life to serving his community.

Richard Weigele was born in Jackson Heights, Queens into a family of six siblings. They moved to Manhasset in about 1960. From an early age, Weigele was fascinated by the fire department. Whenever he was able, he made sure he was there to see the trucks go out on calls. “We lived right in downtown Manhasset, and when the fire horn would go off, I would jump on my bike and race to the firehouse to see the firefighters go out. I would wait for them to return and watch them come back into the firehouse. I just admired and I appreciated what they were doing, helping the community. That’s pretty much how it started,” Weigele said.

As soon as he could begin training he went to volunteer, but there was a snag. He had to wait for an opening. “I joined early in August of ’73. There was actually a waiting list. I had to wait a full year to join because the roster was full.”

Weigele rose through the ranks quickly due to his dedication and commitment to his community. He became an officer in the late ‘70s and worked his way up, first to Second Lieutenant and then First Lieutenant. Making Captain was a particularly memorable milestone for him. “I went in as Captain in 1982. And it was a pretty important year for me, because it was the same year we got married. So it was a whole new adventure for my wife and I.”

Being a volunteer fireman is far from easy. Firefighters put themselves into dangerous situations on almost every call. The MLFD responds to car accidents and other emergencies as well as fires. They do their best to help people out of difficult, sometimes deadly situations. It is their training and teamwork that makes that possible. “Often, you see people where some of them are having the worst days of their lives. You go there to help them, to save them medically. If they have a house fire or auto accidents, you put all your training together. I was taught and trained by some of the best firefighters around; we continue training every week to help us. There’s also working together with your brother and sister firefighters and helping people in the community. The important thing is that you just do the best job you can and help your neighbor, help your community. And it’s been a wonderful experience,” Weigele said.

There have been significant changes since Weigele first joined the department. Equipment has modernized, making both residents and firefighters safer. On the other hand, fewer people are able to volunteer, and those who do come from far afield. Volunteer fire departments all over the country are experiencing staffing shortages. “Over time the desire to volunteer as a firefighter, it has diminished a little bit. It’s hard to get staff, to have people join, for various reasons. They have to travel, the cost of housing and to start a family in Manhasset is very difficult,” Weigele said.

Another change for the better is more people knowing what to do in case of an emergency. Fire safety education has improved drastically since Weigele first joined, something he has been heavily involved in for the last 25 years. “Most of the incidents are generally centered around the home, so we teach them escape plans. We teach them stop, drop and roll. We have a really good program. Last year alone we had probably 500 children. They’re happy, the parents really appreciate the help. It gives the children that comfort level of what to do in the event of a of an emergency in the house,” said Weigele.

More than anything, Weigele is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this community. “It’s been a real honor. It’s been a privilege for me to serve the community of Manhasset for a little over 50 years now. I started as a probie. I’ve held numerous fire medic positions, I’ve held fiscal offices. I like to be there. The friendship and brotherhood that we have when we get to a fire call or an auto accident, it’s complete teamwork. And the firefighters that I was trained with were really spectacular guys. It’s been a very rewarding you know, 50-plus years. I guess the best thing to say is I’m really happy I did it. I’m honored. And I would do it again.”



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