Jonathan Erwin always knew he would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, slowly climbing the ranks of the East Quogue Fire Department. He spent years watching the two rush to calls, run the department from the position of chief or commissioner, all the while teaching him the many tools of the trade.When he returned from a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy in 1989, Mr. Erwin knew exactly where he belonged. Now, 25 years later, the 49-year-old former chief—and current commissioner of the 85-member volunteer department—is watching history repeat itself.
His only son, 19-year-old Patrick Erwin, joined the department last year after growing up watching his father and grandfather Edward J. Erwin help run the outfit in different roles. Patrick Erwin recalls sitting with his grandfather in the radio room of the Montauk Highway firehouse, listening to calls on the weekends and, when he was old enough, responding to alarms with his father and watching from the safety of the fire chief’s car.
“I remember this one fire, I had to stay in the car,” Patrick recalled. “But my dad got out, and I could see the flames coming over the back of this trailer, and he just grabs the fire extinguisher and puts it out before the truck even got there.”
Memories like these molded Patrick into the volunteer he is today. He officially joined the department when he turned 18 last year, but has been considered a member of the team since he was an infant.
Noting that both his parents—his mother, Faith, in addition to volunteering as a firefighter serves as president of the East Quogue Fire Department’s Board of Directors and is also a volunteer EMT—serve in the department, not to mention a great-uncle and a grandfather, Patrick said the call to serve his community came naturally.
His great-grandfather Patrick A. Erwin Sr. was a founding member of the department who served as chief from 1934 to 1936, and as a commissioner from 1940 to 1954. Patrick’s great-uncle Patrick A. Erwin Jr. served as chief from 1958 to 1960. Patrick’s grandfather Edward J. Erwin served as chief from 1963 to 1965 and as a commissioner from 1965 to 1991. And Jonathan Erwin, Patrick’s father, served as chief from 1999 to 2001 and was elected commissioner in 2005, a position he still holds.
But with the addition of Patrick, the Erwins became the first family in the hamlet to have four straight generations of men serve in the fire department.
“I pray that Patrick will join us on that wall someday,” Jonathan Erwin said, gesturing to the photos of past department chiefs that adorn the interior of the firehouse.
“I’m so blessed to have support from my wife, Faith, and from Patrick,” continued Mr. Erwin, who is employed as a parks maintenance supervisor for the Town of Southampton. “I get to support them here, too. It’s incredible.”
Faith Erwin has been volunteering in East Quogue for the past 23 years, and said she couldn’t think of a better way to raise her only child.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The department is the best second family anyone could ask for.”
She describes it as a blessing to have her entire family serve their hometown, adding that it is a tradition she hopes will be continued by future generations of Erwins.
Her husband agreed. “For a lot of families, getting a call means one person leaving,” Mr. Erwin said. “I think we’re lucky to be able to do this together.”
For the next two years, however, the Erwins will have to hold down the fort without their son. While attending Westhampton Beach High School, Patrick enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was scheduled to catch a plane from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip on Wednesday destined for Okinawa, Japan, where he will spend the next two years of his life battling fires.
Though he signed up in 2013, Patrick explained that he opted to defer his deployment until the Air Force had an opening in its fire school—a decision that put his plans on hold for 13 months.
“If the Air Force didn’t have fire fighting,” Patrick said, “I wouldn’t have enlisted.”
He completed his basic training earlier this year and immediately enrolled in the fire school, where he said he learned the basics of firefighting. During that time, he was also trained in combating aircraft fires.
“I want to be a firefighter when I come back, and now I get to fight fires and train all the time,” he said. “That’s exactly what I want to do.”
Ms. Erwin, an employee of the Independent Group Home Living program in Manorville, where she works with mentally disabled adults, said she could not recall her son ever getting excited about school. That changed, however, when he began to take an interest in firefighting.
“I started hearing from his teachers about the leadership ability Patrick began to show and I was amazed,” Ms. Erwin said. “I’m so glad he found his niche.”
Though sad to see Patrick leave for such an extended time, the Erwins said they could not be prouder of him.
“I don’t know if firefighting could be in your genes, but if it could, it’s in ours,” Ms. Erwin said.