After a lifetime of volunteer service, 96-year-old Flushing resident, Herbie Brown was made an honorary fire chief at Engine Company 273 in Flushing.
“He’s the most senior guy in the house,” said Captain Sheldon Barocas, of Engine 273.
The fire station on Union Street in downtown Flushing also houses Ladder Company 129.
Brown is described by his son Sidney, 65, also of Flushing, as being a Fire Department buff since he was living in Manhattan in the 1920s. Brown was a driver/salesman for a bakery in Manhattan but would help out at the local firehouses in his free time.
Brown said he never officially joined the Fire Department because he liked the traveling that his sales job offered.
Since 1981 Brown has been helping out at the Flushing firehouse on Union Street.
“He’s like the mascot,” his son said, “(the firemen) take care of him, and he looks after the firehouse.”
John Lorenz has been a lieutenant at Engine 273 for the last 10 years.
“(Brown) was a fixture here when we all got here,” Lorenz said of himself and the rest of the crew.
“He puts in a couple of hours and keeps the place ship-shape.”
Sal Cusumano, a former captain at the firehouse, describes Brown as an encyclopedia on New York and the Fire Department.
Cusumano said that Brown always asks the new firemen where they are from, and then fills them in with facts about where they live.
Brown also keeps the firemen up to date about the daily activities around the firehouse.
Lieutenant Peter Antine has been at the firehouse for three and a half years.
“As soon as you walk in the door Herbie is right on with all the information and he’s always right. He’s like an info bulletin,” Antine said.
Brown showed up for his celebration on Thursday, October 19th, riding in the back of a fire engine. He was completely surprised. His friends at the firehouse had told him that they were just taking him for a ride. Then they set up the reception while he was gone.
When he arrived, Brown was greeted by the firemen of 273/129, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Community Board 7 Chairman Adrian Joyce, CB 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman, City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, and a representative from Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin’s office, who presented Brown with a congratulatory plaque.
Also in attendance was Thomas DaParma, Queens trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, who gave Brown a gold Honorary Fire Chief badge.
Brown walked through the firehouse shaking hands with everyone present and hugged the old friends he hadn’t seen lately.
He knew everyone’s name.
“There are no strangers in this house when Herbie’s here,” Barocas said.
Sidney Brown said that his father is going to turn 97 in December, and that for a man of his age all his faculties are still “sharp and feisty.” The younger Brown gives credit to the firemen of Union Street.
“This keeps him young,” Brown said. “This keeps him going.”
Barocas remembered a story from a number of years ago when he was an acting lieutenant at the firehouse on Union Street. He walked in and was greeted by Brown with an offer of fresh coffee back in the kitchen.
Then last April, when Barocas was named a captain of the firehouse, he walked in and there was Brown again.
“Hey Cap’,” Brown had said, “you want a cup of coffee? It’s fresh.”
Brown was emotionally moved by the festivities. He couldn’t believe that all his friends had gathered to honor him. He posed for pictures with his new badge. He was dressed in the fireman’s jacket and hat that his friends had given him.
Then Brown stood in front of the group to thank them for coming.
“If it wasn’t for you guys, I don’t think I’d be here today,” Brown said. “God bless you all.”