By Danny Schrafel
Greenlawn Fire Chief Kurt Allen’s family has more than a century of history in the Huntington Township. Now, the chief is adding to that rich family history with a significant historic accomplishment of his own.
Allen on Saturday became the first African-American in Town of Huntington history to serve as the chief of a fire department when he was sworn in as the head of the Greenlawn department.
The significance isn’t lost on the 13-year volunteer – nor is the amazement that it hadn’t happened sooner.
“Isn’t that crazy?” he said in an interview Tuesday night. “That is nuts.”
Allen’s been a member of the Greenlawn Fire Department since 2002. It’s a journey that began with a post-it note.
“You know those donation letters you get all the time?” Allen said. “I was so used to just sending a check in, I wrote in on a post-it note one time, ‘What does it take to become a volunteer?’”
About a week later, Bruce Stockman, a longtime fire department member, was at his door, application in hand. They talked for two hours, and Allen was on his way.
Allen’s work at Greenlawn is the continuation of a legacy his great-grandfather, Gus Allen, set the foundation for a century ago.
Gus Allen had one of the town’s first garbage businesses, Allen & Son, and he became a well-respected figure in Huntington. Despite encountering some racial animosity, Gus held firm, never faltered and never compromised his integrity, his great-grandson said. Giving back was one of the life lessons he instilled in his great-grandchildren.
Soon after he became a volunteer, Kurt Allen started considering a step into leadership, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it – or whether he was capable of doing it.
“I got a lot of encouragement from members within the department,” he said.
Allen joined the leadership of the Greenlawn Fire Department in 2009 when he became a third assistant chief. Then, a friend from the Commack Fire Department told him that if he stuck with it, he would eventually become Huntington’s first African-American chief.
Allen said he put the thought aside for years until the end of last year, when the enormity of what was about to happen hit him and the community at large.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place and better time,” he said. “Something like this never would have happened 30 years ago... Times have changed where the kids don’t see color – they see people. That’s the way it should be.”
After the installment ceremony, the new chief was back to work. Allen and other Greenlawn volunteers were shoulder-to-shoulder with Dix Hills volunteers Tuesday night, aiding them in their response to a pair of blazes that occurred eight hours apart.