By Chief Kelly M. Barnes

From the moment he lowered his right hand after taking the oath of office as Chief Engineer of the West Sayville Fire Department on April 7, 1966, then 36-year old Nicholas E. Paglia, Sr. assumed his self-proclaimed boasting rights, in much more colloquial terms than this, as being the first individual of Italian decent to serve as fire chief in his hometown. In a small community with an abundance of Dutch surnames and a fire department which mirrored the community’s heritage, Nick perceived this as quite an accomplishment.

Nick, a life-long resident of West Sayville, joined the West Sayville Fire Department on March 1, 1946, just thirteen days after turning sixteen. He immediately took a liking to the department’s Flying Dutchmen racing team and became a member of great enthusiasm. It’s probably the only way you can explain why three years into his stint with the team he was willing to participate as a player in a donkey basketball game at the firehouse along with his Dutchmen colleagues Casey Kaan, Skip Schaper, Stanley Buys, Ken Zegel and Bud Van Wyen. Today, Nick is one of two members still alive who can reminisce about that game as well as the other doings of that era. He remains an avid follower and supporter of the racing team today; so much so that he has hung a sign over his garage door at home touting the Flying Dutchmen.

Of course Nick had other interests in the fire department including years of competitive fire department league bowling and service in administrative and firefighting offices. After serving as a trustee for two years, Nick was elected Third Assistant Chief in 1959 replacing John Verschure who chose not to move up from the Fourth Assistant Chief position that year. He progressed upward through the chiefs’ ranks as an assistant chief in the years that followed and became chief as noted earlier.

While under his tutelage the West Sayville firefighters celebrated the diamond anniversary of their founding with a musical exhibition and spectacular fireworks show on the grounds of the Sayville High School followed the next day with the hosting of the annual parade of the Islip Town Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Chief Paglia’s two years as commanding officer were marked by a number of memorable fires within the fire district including the Koster-Keunen Wax Factory and Luigi’s Gypsy Fiddle Restaurant blazes as well as mutual aid assistance to surrounding communities at fires which ravaged the St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church and Westin’s Boat Shop in Sayville and the Sportsmen’s Club - now Connetquot River State Park Preserve - to name a few.

Less than two years after leaving the chief’s office Nick successfully sought a seat on the Board of Fire Commissioners of the West Sayville-Oakdale Fire District and served four consecutive five year terms before retiring from the title in 1988. He now is recognized as the fire district’s senior most past fire commissioner and suitably filled that role last November at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the fire department’s Headquarters addition project.

Through his six decades of service with the West Sayville Fire Department past chief and past commissioner Paglia has been recognized innumerable times for his longevity and dedication. At the top of that list are fifty and sixty year awards from the fire department itself, recognition by the Town of Islip and the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York for his fifty years of volunteer fire service and co-recipient of the Firefighter of the Year in 1999.

Older local residents may remember Nick for his occupational undertakings. He worked fulltime as a mechanic and fuel delivery man for Bud’s Service Station in West Sayville where he earned the title of deputy mayor and, in more recent years, as a fuel truck driver with Aladdin Fuel Service in Bayport. His career at “Bud’s” was highlighted with the bestowing of The Gates Rubber Company Mystery Car Award on two occasions for discovering a defective fan belt on the company’s car and offering to replace it. Sprinkled in between his fulltime jobs and the fire department, Nick spent many years cleaning the West Sayville Post Office on a part time basis and towing wrecked cars for P. J. Grady on an on-call schedule.

All of that work is now a thing of the past as Nick enjoys his retirement at home splitting his time between painting by numbers, keeping the latest of his long string of Chevrolets in top notch condition mechanically as well as in appearance, meticulously maintaining his lawn and house and sitting in on the morning coffee klatches at the firehouse.

Nick has shared his life with two Barbaras, his first wife of that name passed away in 1980 while his second wife, also named Barbara, joined him several years later. From those partnerships grew five children, all adults now, five grandchildren and five great grandkids. Quite interesting, his son, Nick, Jr., found his way into the volunteer fire service with the Middle Island Fire Department having become a member there in 1996 and a fire commissioner, like his dad, in 2007 and Jamie Dobbs, a grandson, is an active member and past captain in the Central Islip Fire Department.