Peter F. Brala, a longtime member of the Albertson Fire Company who served as its chief in the 1970s, died June 18 of complications from pneumonia. He was 85.
Brala, a Roslyn native who later settled in Albertson, served the fire department for 56 years and stayed active in it until the end of his life, Peter J. Brala, his oldest son, said.
Brala was known as a stern leader who taught younger firefighters well, said Don McMahon, a current firefighter and a spokesman for the department.
“He was a good instructor, but he was firm,” McMahon said. “You kind of learned what you had to do. He was somebody you would follow into a fire without a question, because he wouldn’t get you hurt.”
Brala grew up in Roslyn and graduated from Roslyn High School in 1950. He served with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 aboard the USS Beatty, which supported United Nations troops in combat.
After returning from the war, Brala married Patricia Gleniewicz, an Albertson native whom he met in high school, the younger Peter Brala said. They had three children: Peter, Phyllis and Patrick.
Brala joined the Albertson Fire Company in the early 1960s, rising through the ranks to lead it as chief, McMahon said. He was eventually made a lifetime member.
Brala’s father had also been an Albertson firefighter, and the family ties pushed the younger Peter Brala to join too, he said. He currently serves as the fire company’s treasurer.
“There was a lot of family camaraderie that was established back in the early days of the fire service,” Peter J. Brala said.
Brala sometimes clashed with younger firefighters in the 1960s and ’70s, when many had long hair and different cultural norms, the younger Brala said.
But he was a caring man who provided for his family and helped others when they needed it, his son said.
“He was a very giving man too,” Peter J. Brala said. “He was always willing to give to other people and all that, and then we’d find out later on.”
In his professional life, Brala worked with his wife’s father, Joseph Gleniewicz, at Gleniewicz Cranes, a construction company that worked on projects stretching from New York City to Montauk.
He helped build new airplane hangars at John F. Kennedy Airport, worked on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and worked at Stony Brook University when it was first under construction, Peter J. Brala said.
Brala’s toughness sustained him through many illnesses and injuries in his life, his son said.
In 1975, he was crushed by a tree that he was helping to cut down at his uncle’s house in Old Brookville, which kept him in the hospital for nine months, the younger Brala said. But he survived a pinched nerve, hip replacements and a leg injury, he said.
“He had nine lives,” Peter J. Brala said.
Brala also suffered from chronic emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease known as COPD, his son said. Those diseases led to the pneumonia that ultimately caused his death, the younger Brala said.
Brala was honored with a memorial service at the Albertson Fire Company firehouse on June 30 and a funeral mass on July 1 at the Church of St. Aidan in Williston Park.
In addition to his wife and three children, Brala is survived by six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, whom he got to meet just before his death, Peter J. Brala said.