On Feb. 12, 1963, Lou Santosus waked into the Mineola Fire Department to sign up as a volunteer. Five decades and countless calls later, he is celebrating his golden anniversary as a first responder with engine company No. 1.
His desire to be a part of the fire department was evident before he even joined, considering he waited nine months to be able to join.
“It’s got to be in your blood…you either have it or you don’t,” he said. “You can’t do it half way, when the siren goes you just have to go. You don’t make it 50 years in the fire department without a wife that supports you.”
He also recalled when his wife, then pregnant with their first son, was ready to go to the hospital to give birth, only to have duty call. He responded to the alarm, came home and then left for the hospital with his wife to have their son delivered. He now has four children to his name and two of his sons are FDNY Lieutenants and one is member at Mineola Fire Department.
And yes, he still responds to calls, even one the morning of this interview.
“You got to go, cause if you don’t go, who do you think is going?” he said.
His first call was for a garage fire. His father had a shoe repair shop where Santosus worked on Saturdays, but the call came and he responded. He recalled being asked to get a hand light by his lieutenant and not knowing what it was.
In five decades the ex-chief has seen a lot change, even among the members of the department.
“Everyone used to be married, now it’s all single guys,” he said remembering a different time of firefighting with no portable radios, no tops on the trucks and responding in the rain getting soaked and freezing, riding the back step and lacking the modern day masks to protect against smoke, using specialized masks that had a box of charcoal filters for the smoke.
“They would fill up rapidly,” he said. “I’d walk a half a block to the scene and it would clog up.”
Five decades also leaves room for quite a few stories, including one during his time as chief where during a warehouse fire he went up in the Nassau County Police helicopter for an aerial view to better direct the strategy to knock down the blaze.
“We had a lot more fires back then, for some reason Mineola was burning,” he said.
The ex-chief also takes particular pride in spearheading the restoration of a 1939 Diamond T Floodlight truck.
“It was in the village garage lying dormant for years under a salt spreader rotting away and I came upon it,” he said, “and brought it back to life.”
The restoration is testimony towards his caring for the department and its history, but also towards the village.
Santosus spent 17 years as a Mineola Village Trustee and deputy mayor. He also received awards for Company One Firefighter of the Year, Town of North Hempstead Firefighter of the Year and Firefighter of the Year of the Mineola Fire Department in 1991, 1998 and 1998, respectively.
Santosus, a Mineola High School graduate, has also aided in the creation of the Mineola Junior Fire Department Explorer Post 160, considered the premier junior fire department in the region. He has served the department in nearly every capacity from vice-president, president, second and first lieutenant and led the company as captain. He has also risen through the chief ranks as second assistant, first assistant and finally chief of department. He is also actively serving as a Charter Member of the Nassau County Critical Incidence Stress Management Team and as Warden of Engine Company One.
Santosus will be honored by the department on March 16 at the Fiftieth Anniversary Ceremony of Company One.