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In solemn memorial service, Greenport remembers fallen heroes

Greenport firefighters at the memorial outside the firehouse this morning. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The bell on Relief Hose Company engine 8-3-2 rang out three times, paused, and then pealed five times more, symbolizing pull box number 35, where a general alarm sounded just before 8:30 p.m. on June 11, 1977.

“A house fire on Carpenter Street,” Greenport Fire Department Chaplain Claude Kumjian recalled. It would prove to be a tragically fateful alarm.

Two members of the department, ex-captain Richard Sycz, 26, and firefighter Bruce Bellefountaine, 18, perished in the blaze at 612 Carpenter Street as they searched in vain for a 10-year-old girl reportedly trapped in a second-floor bedroom.

The chaplain conducted the department’s annual memorial service today at the monument at the corner of Third and South streets, as engines from the fallen firefighters’ companies, Relief Hose and Phenix Hook and Ladder, stood by. The 8-3-5 ladder was extended, a large American flag draped from its apex, billowing in the warm breeze.

Kumjian knew both young men very well.

“I went to school with Richie,” he said. “He joined the department a year before I did. He worked as an equipment operator for the state transportation department, serving the people of the State of New York and especially the people of the Town of Southold every single day.”

Bellafountaine was new to the department and several years his junior, but Kumjian said he got to know him well as he trained him in the skills needed to be a police dispatcher at Southold PD, where Kumjian worked at the time.

“Bruce was a good young man,” Kumjian said.

“Back in those days, you could come up there and train if you were interested. You could be hired part-time and that would lead to a full-time job.”

Bellafountaine had been at his side for a few hours on the evening of June 10, as Kumjian worked the 4 to 12 shift in the radio room.

After he left that night, Kumjian recalled, “my sergeant came in and said, ‘You’ve got a good man there. Train him right. He’s going places.’”

The next day, Sycz and Bellafountaine should have been at a drill team event in Sag Harbor. “But the weather was iffy and the event was canceled at 9 a.m.,” Kumjian said, leaving the “what-if” unspoken.

Instead, they remained in Greenport, where that evening, answering that general alarm, they donned their gear and raced into the burning home. There “in their devotion to duty as volunteer firemen, Richie and Bruce made the supreme sacrifice,” Kumjian said solemnly.

After a moment of silent prayer for Sycz and Bellafountaine, all departed members of the department, and Cutchogue volunteer firefighter Jason Cooper, who was killed in an accident at his family’s home June 7, Kumjian recited the 23rd Psalm.

Two dozen people had assembled at the bronze firefighter memorial on the lawn outside the firehouse this morning. Firefighters, led by their color guard, marched silently from the firehouse to the memorial and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on each side of the brick walkway. Wreaths were presented and placed at the base of the monument.

Kumjian read the names of the members who had passed away in the previous year before turning to a remembrance of the pair who were killed in the line of duty 40 years ago today.

Department officers then proceeded to Mitchell Park, where they placed wreaths at a monument erected in memory of the two heroes, and, finally, to their gravesites in St. Agnes Cemetery.

SoutholdLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.