By Stephen J. Kotz
Sag Harbor Village police officer Randy Steyert did not sleep well Thursday. His 13-month-old son, Barrett, who was sick with a 104-degree fever, had been up most of the night.
“I was sitting up with him rocking back to sleep,” the second year Sag Harbor officer said and finally got back to sleep at about 4:45 and woke up again at 5:30.”
Officer Steyert drove downtown shortly after 6 a.m. and decided to stop at Sag Town Coffee for a quick cup before starting his shift.
As he got out of his car, he could smell smoke and thought his car was overheating. “I thought, ‘Oh no, don’t be my car. I can’t afford this right now.’”
But when he got out of the vehicle he realized it was burning wood he could smell. He followed his nose to the rear of the coffee shop in the Sag Harbor Shopping Cove and saw a small fire on a second-floor deck behind the Compass Real Estate Building.
When he called in the fire, he told dispatchers to send firefighters to the rear of the building, where he believed they would have easier access to the flames. It was 6:11 a.m.
Then he went back to Main Street to confirm street numbers. When he returned to the rear of the building, he knew he had a problem on his hands: “Fire had engulfed the entire deck,” he said.
He called dispatchers again and then told the young woman working at coffee shop to get out before running back to the front of the building, knowing there was an apartment above Compass. “I was banging on the door, no answer, no answer, no answer,” he said. “I was hoping no one was home.”
Finally, a sleepy tenant, Michael Lynch, wearing only pajamas and a t-shirt, appeared at the door. Officer Steyert said he told the man to grab a jacket and shoes and they fled the building. “You could see the fire out the back sliding doors on the deck, and the whole apartment was filling with smoke,” said Officer Steyert.
Within minutes of his initial call, fire engines were pulling up. “The response time was amazing,” he said.
Officer Steyert, who was a New York City police officer for nearly four years before joining his hometown department in 2014, said it was by far his most memorable day as police officer. “Starting the day, saving a life, yeah,” he said.
In the days since Friday’s fire, it’s been decidedly more low-key for Officer Steyert. He and other Sag Harbor officers have been pressed into overtime duty, working double and some triple shifts, keeping rubberneckers away from the fire scene and helping direct Main Street traffic in weather that has ranged from frigid cold to slushy snow, and warm rain.
He has become something of a local celebrity, with passersby delivering coffee and cookies, or just stopping by to thank him.
He’s also happy to report that his son is doing better. “His fever broke the day after the fire,” he said.