Bill Rowse loved his hometown of Patchogue and the area so much he would drive the shoreline along Middle Road from Corey Beach to Sandspit to Mascot Dock, and then to his breakfast place every day.
“It was two egg whites on toast at the Brook Street Deli,” said Patchogue Fire Department chief Nick Greco.
His voice was loud; that’s why he was the voice of the New York State Firematic Drill Racing teams over the speakers, and he liked to play polka with the old timers at the fire house every Friday night.
“He worked for the village for 58 years, starting as the first kid at the pool to a dispatcher for the Patchogue Fire Department,” said mayor Paul Pontieri. “I don’t think there was anyone who gave back more than him. His mom, Gertrude, was a village clerk, and he’s from a family who has given back to the community.”
Rowse, 77, passed away last week. His legacy was so profound that 600 friends, colleagues, and firefighting officials attended his wake at the Van Guard Fire House on Park Street Sunday night.
“Bill was just so heavily involved in every aspect of the fire department, every organization,” said Greco. “He was always doing something with the fire department. He’d left Wall Street, dealing with stocks for a few years, for a dispatching supervisor’s job. He was there for 48 years until eight months ago. He joined the fire department in 1962.”
He lived on Cedar Avenue his whole life.”
Patchogue-Medford School District clerk Dennis Logan grew up behind Rowse’s home, then moved across the street from him.
“Bill was the consummate Patchogue firefighter and the consummate village enthusiast,” Logan recalled. “He was a wealth of knowledge on both and was the first paying customer at the village pool in 1953, and was proud of it; we discussed that two weeks ago.” Logan would get interesting stories from Rowse at the firehouse or talking in Rowse’s yard. “By losing Bill we’ve lost a great deal of our unwritten history, stories we’ll never know again,” Logan said.
Rowse trained newcomers, emphasizing that everything had to be written by hand and everything had to be conducted a certain way, the same way every time, like muscle memory.
“When my dad passed away, he was a father figure to me, too, and many other people,” Greco said.
There were 10 part-timers and two full-time dispatchers.
While he was definitive about demanding procedures a certain way, “he was the most disorganized, organized person,” said Greco with some humor. “He had little scraps of paper all around he’d written, and was kind of our historian for years also.”
Rowse held many positions and was chief from 1985 to 1986; he was a regular figure on runs.
“There were a lot of people who visited him on a regular basis,” said Greco of his last months with his cancer diagnosis. “Some of our members were taking care of him. We made sure he was eating and was kept comfortable the last few months he was alive.”
A plaque was presented in his honor to the fire department on Monday from Fire Island National Seashore superintendent Alex Romero.
A wake took place at the Van Guard Fire House on Park Street. Family members included two brothers, nieces and nephews.
On Tuesday, Rowse was interred at Cedar Grove Cemetery, right by his beloved fire house.