Home: Thomas W. Horn Sr.
By Nancy Remkus
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
Any summer evening a stroll down Main Street may find you in front of the firehouse. There’s a glow coming from the door and sitting there at the card table selling raffle tickets and fire paraphernalia is a most dedicated firefighter, Mr. Thomas W. Horn Sr. He is there every evening unless there is a family gathering or event planned. In the past he was often joined by the late Marty Trunzo and from time to time Marty’s daughter Nina; Tom stands watch over the village and helps to raise money for the fire museum. I believe it is one of the things that sets Sag Harbor apart and helps to create the special feeling of ‘Home’.
Tom has met many people at this post each summer: two New York State governors, a New York City mayor, a host of movie stars, and kind people from all over the world. A friendship kindled there, and some firefighter stories shared, put a mention of Tom in Julie Andrews Edwards’ and Emma Walton Hamilton’s children’s book; “Dumpy and the Firefighters.”
In the 1890’s Tom’s grandfather Carl Von Horn, then 11 years old, came to this country as a stow away on a boat from Germany. His last name was shortened to Horn, and after spending some time in Pennsylvania he made his way to Sag Harbor and worked as a foreman in the Sag Harbor Brick Company off of the Turnpike. This brick company, later know as Griffings, produced bricks that were used in the construction of Pierson High School, the Fahy’s Watchcase Factory extension and the Sag Harbor Train Depot, just to name a few. Carl had three sons Charles, James and Thomas, who became Tom W’s father.
Tom W. Horn Sr. was born in a house on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor in 1930 and has lived on Meadowlark Lane since 1954. The walls of his home are adorned with bits and pieces of his life: dedications, memories, poems, pictures and paintings, each having a significant meaning and telling the story of the life he has dedicated to his family and his community. It is here that Tom and his wife of nearly 67 years, Eileen, have raised their six children.
Tom joined the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department in 1951. “My father joined during World War II because the young folks were away in the service. Everybody joined; a lot had to do with a place to go where you knew someone and developed friendships. It’s hard to explain why you do it, but in a small community you join to help your neighbors.”
Tom is currently the oldest and longest active member of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department with 66 years of dedicated service. From second assistant chief, first assistant chief, captain, warden, co-secretary to chief, he has held ever post possible. At 87 Tom, as a member of the fire police, is still responding to fires, helping to keep traffic and people away from the impacted areas.
When asked what some of the responsibilities of being a firefighter might be Tom responded, “Do what you’re told. It is broken down now into so many categories. There is so much training. Our firefighters are a bunch of unpaid professionals.” Tom said the best way to help the fire department is to support them.
When asked about special memories in the department, Tom recalled a time when he was with a number of young Sag Harbor firefighters at a training day in Yaphank. During a break, the instructor called Tom over and told him what great firefighters they were: knowledgeable, strong and fearless. “It tickled my heart,” Tom recalled with a true sense of pride.
One of the projects that Tom is very involved with is the Sag Harbor Fire Museum located on the corner of Sage and Church Streets. The museum was established in 1978 while Tom was the fire chief, and he, along with his children, has been instrumental in keeping it running. The museum, once a working fire house, is now filled with decades of local firefighting history represented by artifacts, murals, photographs, uniforms and equipment. “Horses never pulled the equipment; men did. That’s why there are firehouses all over the village. It’s important for people to know the history of the fire department,” remarked Tom. “While my son Robert was working there, he created a timeline of all of the historic fires in Sag Harbor’s history.” The fire museum is open to the public during summer months, and groups can call to arrange for tours.
Along with the countless hours Tom has dedicated to the fire department and the fire museum, he has also found time to fit in other areas of community service. “I was on the St. Andrews School Board; I was the Bingo caller for years; I helped to start a youth center, and I was a long standing member of the Architectural Review Board here in the village.”
When asked about his feelings for his hometown, Tom said, “It’s great! I love it! It has a different feel than any other town around us. It’s a feeling of togetherness. People here help each other.”
The door in the entryway of Tom’s current house was removed and restored from the house on Hampton Street where he was born. Etched in the glass, in a fine cursive hand, are Tom’s name and the year of his birth. His uncle etched it there with a diamond, marking Tom’s arrival into the world and his hometown.
After spending time at home with Tom, his daughter Kathleen and his wife Eileen the walls of my house suddenly felt so empty. Where are the poems, the certificates, the paintings, the photographs, the memories of a life well lived? How full life felt among his memorabilia. Each piece held a special meaning, each piece had a special place and Tom was able to draw from each a golden moment of life.
So for Tom and all of our dedicated firefighters, we are so grateful that you call Sag Harbor, ‘Home’!