MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Not many of us get to have two families, but longtime Mahopac resident Davey Jean Beska does.
Beska, 89, and her late husband, Dick, had five children—three girls, two boys. But Beska also considers the members of the Mahopac Falls Volunteer Fire Department (MFVFD), both past and present, her family as well.
“We are truly like one,” Beska said of the department. “I call it my fire department because it is like an extended family—lifelong friendships.”
After the Beskas moved to Mahopac from Farmingdale, L.I., in the early ‘60s, Dick Beska signed on to become a volunteer at Mahopac Falls FD. Soon, Davey joined the Ladies Auxiliary and when her daughters came of age, they did, too. Their sons eventually joined the fire department as well. Dick Beska eventually became a chief, as did one of their sons.
When Davey Beska joined the auxiliary, the technology that exists today was only in the imagination of science fiction writers. Back then, dispatchers used rotary-dial fire phones to call the volunteer firefighters to a scene.
Originally, fire phones were located in certain members’ homes. They would answer the call and dispatch the message, blow the siren and start the phone chain to the rest of the members. In the ‘70s, Beska became one of the three who would stay to answer the emergency line. With fellow dispatchers Julie Reitz and Edie Swarm, she would take turns being on duty, sometimes for days at a time.
“I’d get the call and then I put it out to the fire department. It seemed like every time I had to go to the lady’s room there would be a fire!” she said with a laugh. “We had the ‘red phone’ [used to make the dispatch] and it would go over the monitors and set off the tones. If it was a working fire, the Ladies Auxiliary would go there with hot coffee and anything else we could take to the fireman.”
It was through moments like that that the men and women of the department bonded—and that bond remains even stronger today.
“It was a wonderful time to be involved. We used to say, ‘What can you give?’ Now, today, it seems more like it’s ‘What can I get?’ We gave, gave, and gave. I used to work at the [firemen’s fair] with five children to take care of, but we are a fire department family and very, very proud.”
Beska remembers how the young kids from the department would hang out in her kitchen.
“Jack Casey [now a longtime MFVFD member and freelance fire photographer for Mahopac News] was one of those kids and his mother would call Beska to see if he was behaving.
“He was excellent with no problems!” she said with a grin. “I have a lot of children like that—fire department children—I love them and take an interest in them.”
When Beska recently took ill, it was the ambulance corps from MFVFD that brought her to the hospital.
“Two kids from the fire department came in the ambulance to take me to the hospital,” she said. “I was very impressed with them and they were very impressed with me (and her service to the department). They are young, caring adults. In today’s world, you don’t see that as much. I truly love these young adults.”
Beska, who has lived in Mahopac for 54 years, was born in Birmingham, Ala. When she was 11, her family moved to Manhattan (her dad was a banker).
“I didn’t realize how blessed I was by living next to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History,” she said. “I had all these things at my feet. My adventures in New York were much different than my adventures in Alabama. In Alabama, everything was laid back; in New York, it was always run, run, run!”
Beska eventually married Dick and they moved to Long Island, but her husband became disenchanted with the commute into the city.
“Every night he would come home and say, ‘I’m on a road that doesn’t move,’” she recalled.
Beska’s sister lived in Peekskill and so the couple checked out the region and eventually picked Mahopac to move to. Because Dick had been a volunteer fireman on Long Island, he was quick to join the department in Mahopac Falls when they got to town.
“We checked out the area and just fell in love with it,” she said. “This was where we wanted to raise our family.”
Beska fell in line right along with her husband in his service to the department. Although women firefighters were unheard of back then, women contributed mightily to the cause as members of the auxiliary. But Beska’s service didn’t end with the Mahopac Women’s Auxiliary. She joined the auxiliaries at the Putnam County Volunteer Firemen’s Association; the Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association, and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Firemen’s Association of New York (LAFANY). She became the director of LAFANY, but in the early 1980s, members started encouraging her to run for president of the organization.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ But I ran and I was elected,” she said.
Beska has also been a volunteer for the Girl Scouts and has worked with the 4-H. But in Mahopac, she will always be known for her volunteerism with the fire department. In July, Beska was officially sworn in by MFVFD Chief Jeff Boyle as an honorary member of the department, making her only the second one to receive that honor.
“That was so touching,” she said. “There were young, new members, and older members there, and not one was too busy to come up and say hello and talk to me. I got lots of kisses and gave lots of kisses that night. I felt like this is my fire department now. I love watching [new members] come in and grow. For some of them, I was there when they first came in and then rose all the way to chief.
“One girl who had recently joined [the fire department] spoke to me the night of my honor and said it was great to meet me,” Beska continued. “I told her, ‘You are going to do well because your heart is where it belongs.’”
And for all these years, so has Davey Beska’s.