Joseph DeCristofaro, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who, at 98, was the longest-serving active member of the East Hampton Fire Department, died on Oct. 2 at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Mr. DeCristofaro, who was named the East Hampton Fire Department’s first honorary chief last year, joined the department in 1956, not long after building the house on Buell Lane Extension where he would live for the rest of his life. He had been a company captain and fire council member, and was named Firefighter of the Year in 1976, 1999, and 2009, but did not ascend to the rank of chief because village law at the time required that chiefs live in the village and Mr. DeCristofaro’s house was just outside it.
While he was no longer responding to fires in his later years, he continued to attend all the department meetings.
Mr. DeCristofaro was born in Bridgehampton on July 27, 1925, to Frank DeCristofaro and the former Mary Ferrara. He attended grade school in Bridgehampton and high school in Westhampton Beach. When he was 17, he enlisted in the Navy. He became a gunner in the Armed Guard, protecting the crew and cargo aboard merchant ships crossing the Atlantic.
“We carried bombs, food, whatever, to the troops,” he told The Star in a 2021 interview. He served aboard the Knute Rockne in 1943 and in 1944 aboard the James Ives, which transported 10,000 tons of food to Omaha Beach and the troops at Normandy in France.
After returning to the United States, he sailed out of Texas aboard a new Navy ship, the U.S.S. Odum, to the Pacific, where he would remain until the end of the war.
Back in Bridgehampton, he went to work for the Long Island Rail Road. He met his future wife, Lorraine Loris, at a carnival in Sag Harbor, and they were married on Oct. 25, 1947.
They had already started a family when, three years later, Mr. DeCristofaro was called back to duty for the Korean War, serving on the U.S.S. Jarvis. “He served for a year before getting a reprieve in consideration of his family situation, just before his destroyer shipped out,” his daughters wrote.
Back at home, he built his own house with a good friend, and then started his own construction business, which he ran until becoming an East Hampton Town building inspector in 1969. He retired as chief building inspector in 1989, but continued to work part time as a housing inspector for another 10 years.
Mr. DeCristofaro joined the Fire Department’s Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 in 1956 and was its captain or assistant captain for 11 years. A life member and past commander of the Everit Albert Herter Post 550 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he was the V.F.W.’s quartermaster for 34 years. He has received numerous medals, including the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, the American Campaign, the Philippine Liberation, and the French Jubilee of Liberty Medal.
He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and restoring old cars, and kept a large vegetable garden.
His wife died in 2006. He is survived by their three daughters, JoAnne Claflin and her husband, John, Deborah Walter and her husband, Alex, and Cyri DeCristofaro, all of East Hampton. He also leaves five grandchildren, John Claflin II, Alexander Walter, Erica Prado, Denis Dunne, and Jennifer Dunne, and six great-grandchildren.
A graveside service was held on Friday at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Cemetery in East Hampton.
Mr. DeCristofaro’s family has suggested donations in his memory to the East Hampton Fire Department, 1 Cedar Street 11937.