No Time for Thought in Boat Fire

Fast action as boat blazed saved houses
A raging boat fire in Ditch Plain threatened houses in the area on Friday.
A raging boat fire in Ditch Plain threatened homes in the area on Friday. Alan Burke

    It was Friday morning and Patrick Keogh had just finished feeding the horses at Deep Hollow Ranch when the Montauk fire siren went off. The fire was on Reuter Place in Ditch Plain.
    Mr. Keogh jumped into his blue Ford pickup as his German Shepherd, Finley, leapt into the bed of the truck. “I know the area,” Mr. Keogh said yesterday. “Those houses in Ditch are close together.” He raced down Montauk Highway, turned left on Caswell Road, and ended up on the small dead-end street that is Reuter. He was one of the first firefighters  on the scene.
     Peter Joyce, the lieutenant of the Montauk Fire Department’s Company 2, of which Mr. Keogh is a member, was also there. In front of them was a ball of fire, the bizarre, frightening sight of a boat on a trailer lodged between two wooden houses, flames growing by the second. Mr. Keogh had brought a fire extinguisher with him, which he handed off to another arriving firefighter.
    Then he did something which, he said, “If I’d thought about it, I wouldn’t have done it.”
    But there was no time for thought.
The side of one house was already beginning to scorch.
    Mr. Keogh ran back to his truck, threw it into reverse, and backed up to the burning boat. Without a single word, Mr. Joyce began hooking the burning trailer to the truck, with the help of other firemen on the scene. Mr. Keogh put the truck into drive and pulled the boat out into the middle of Reuter Place, away from the houses.
    Throughout, his dog, Finley, sat in the bed of the truck.
    “He is as faithful and loyal a dog as ever was,” Mr. Keogh said.
    Alan Burke, another fireman, pulled up just then.
    “When I got there he was towing the boat out of the driveway,” said Mr. Burke. “The houses were getting scorched. He saved those two houses.”  
     “It wasn’t all me,” Mr. Keogh stressed. The sight of Mr. Joyce, whom Mr. Keogh has served with for some 16 years, was reassurance that he wasn’t alone, he said, and “when he hooked the truck up I knew there’d be somebody there to unhook it.” And there were, unnamed heroes, fellow volunteers helping unhitch the truck and turn their hoses on the flame as Mr. Keogh pulled away. It took about an hour to extinguish the last embers.
    That afternoon, Mr. Keogh and Finley were back at work at the ranch.
    On Monday, Tom Baker, East Hampton Town fire marshal, said the cause of the fire was “a battery installed improperly.” The owner, Stephen Murphy of 25 Reuter Place, “had just put the batteries in that morning. He flicked the switch and got an arc. He shut it off and got two fire extinguishers. It didn’t do any good.”
    Mr. Keogh took over as manager of Deep Hollow Ranch with his wife, Kate, earlier this year. The ranch’s proximity to Ditch Plain, which has almost no year-round residents, got him to the scene in time to help prevent a disaster.