One thing is for certain; there’s nothing quite like the bond generated by being part of a team.
This is especially true for the East Meadow Fire Department. At the 6th Battalion Firefighter Racing Tournament held at the Four Towns Fireman’s Training Center in Merrick on Friday, the volunteers of this upstanding organization banded together not only for personal glory, but to honor a fallen comrade.
The sudden death of 23-year-old Lieutenant Robert Priest last April left his fellow East Meadow firefighters shocked, said ex-Captain Joseph Lennon.
“Nobody knows exactly what happened, he went to bed and later his parents found him, and he had passed away,” he said. “Rob was very dedicated to East Meadow and he was a lieutenant moving up to first lieutenant before he passed away. He was moving up in the ranks, and he probably would have been chief one day. He was very good.”
To ensure that Priest's memory lives on, the East Meadow Fire Department decided to dedicate a special trophy in his honor at this year’s tournament, according to Lennon.
“The trophy is for the Two-Into-One Event,” he said. “Anybody who wins first place in this event will win the trophy in memory of Rob, starting from now until the trophy breaks. They fix it and for the next 30 years, it will keep his memory alive.”
The 6th Battalion Tournament, exclusive to New York State since beginning in the 1940’s, consists of fire departments from all over the area coming together to compete in numerous firefighting-related drills involving skill, speed, and most of all, teamwork.
Rob’s father, East Meadow Fire Chief John Priest, was touched by the support shown by his department mates on the emotional evening.
“Every year 6th Battalion is a great time and a great way to have comradeship, but this, obviously, it’s something even more special,” he said. “I used to run in this tournament, and my son was a team member last year and the fact that they would take the extra special step this year of dedicating a trophy to my son is incredibly heart-warming.”
Friday's tournament is known as an “old fashioned” event, due to the fact that no motorized vehicles were used; just good old-fashioned manpower, said Lennon, who was the captain for the department’s Meadowlarks Drill Team.
“There’s one of these events somewhere in New York State every weekend,” he said. “East Meadow is an overall average team. We’ve had some very good years, but some of the guys get different jobs and they can’t race anymore.”
“However, tonight we’re going to have some extra motivation for Rob,” Lennon added. “Everybody’s been coming out to practice the last three weeks and we’re ready to do our best for him.”