Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 04 February 2011 00:00
A hero by certain standards could be a fictional character, a professional athlete or a TV actor. But a true hero thinks of others before himself, exhibits a passion for helping others and uses kindness as his or her strength. Mineola resident and honorary Fire Chief Bill Gresalfi fits that bill.
The Town of North Hempstead selected Bill as its Mineola Hometown Hero last week. Town Clerk Leslie Gross was on hand to commend Gresalfi and his accomplishments.
“This was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make with this Hometown Hero selection,” Gross stated. “I wish that I could honor the entire department as a Hometown Hero.”
Gresalfi has been a member of the Mineola Fire Department since 1976. He has served as its Financial Secretary, Vice President and President of Company #3.
Bill became Chairman of the Fire Prevention Program ten years ago. He has spent countless hours teaching children about fire safety with lectures and demonstrations such as the “Smoke House.” Gresalfi is a retired Third Precinct police officer with over 25 years of experience.
“He instills a sense of duty into the junior firefighters that make them respond to every training,” chief Rob Connolly said in his Hometown Hero recommendation. “Bill feels it’s his responsibility to make sure they know every facet of firematics.”
Connolly was speaking of Mineola’s Junior Fire Department, which Gresalfi is the co-head advisor. The program prepares young budding firefighters for the grind of battling the flames.
Gresalfi was approached to take over the Junior Fire Department by Gary Mazur with Rob Connolly and was unsure at first until Mazur hit him with it.
“He said we were in danger of losing the program,” Gresalfi said. “They couldn’t get anyone to join.”
That was 14 years ago. Now, there is a waiting list for next year.
“When you walk in here, it’s an adult situation,” Gresalfi said of the juniors. “We work here, we don’t play here.”
Gresalfi was responsible for coordinating a fire department exchange program with FF-STELLINGEN-HAMBURG JUGENDFEUERWHER, a German youth fire brigade. According to Connolly, this started as an email exchange between the two groups that Bill fostered into an international exchange program in 2007.
“I don’t know how he has the time to do what he does,” fellow fireman Jack Fernandes said. “He’s a credit to this department and Mineola.”
Gresalfi hosted members of the Hamburg Fire Department is his home to begin the early stages of the exchange. The end result was a 10-day visit to Mineola by a group of German youths.
“He met them at the airport, led them on sightseeing in our area and even incorporated these youths into Mineola Juniors annual summer trip to Lake George,” Connolly said.
In 2008, Mineola Juniors traveled to Germany to complete the exchange. In August 2010, Bill welcomed a new group of German Juniors and is currently planning a 2011 trip from Mineola to Germany.
“It’s always great to see smiles on a kid’s face,” Gresalfi said. “That’s my goal. Make them feel joy.”
He stated that he was honored as a Hometown Hero and was shocked when he got the call. “I was startled,” he said. “I figured that someone else would’ve gotten it. It’s great.”
Gresalfi’s father was a fireman, along with his brother. He said he wasn’t interested at first because he was 18, but joined when he was 33.
“Through friends I joined the fire department and my wife kind of pushed me,” Gresalfi said. “I was on the police force for six years before I joined.”