Fire Islanders were stunned to learn of the abrupt closure of Fire Island Beach House in Ocean Bay Park by order of the Town of Brookhaven Fire Marshal on the eve of Memorial Day Weekend. One week later ownership has informed Fire Island News that the cease and desist order has been lifted and they plan to reopen this weekend.
The boutique hotel was boasted in the media as being on the cutting edge of the Fire Island hospitality industry after a team of six business partners purchased the compound from longtime proprietor Ed Eschmann, who had operated the facility as Fire Island Hotel for nearly 30 years. However the transaction was finalized just before the COVID-19 pandemic made its imprint. Of course their plans were derailed just like it was for everybody else, but still they managed to open their doors by late June 2020, and hoped to salvage the best months of summer.
July and August of 2020 were not without their share of tensions with the Ocean Bay Park community. Murmurs of resentment brewed for being denied access to the hotel as longtime residents had become accustomed to, including an informal use of restrooms for beach goers, and they missed being able to stop and have a drink at Hurricane’s Bar and Grill which too was no more.
“I was saddened to learn of all of this,” said Melissa Dodici, former head chef and general manager of the Fire Island Hotel. “If the Town of Brookhaven ever approached us with such a problem we would have never let it go this far.”
So what went wrong?
“Despite the best efforts of the Division of Fire Prevention to work with the property owners and operators since early 2020, violations of both the Fire Code of New York State and the Town Fire Prevention Codes continue to exist at this location,” said the Town of Brookhaven in a published statement released by their Public Information Department. “Additional violations have been cited as well, as the owners and operators continue to perform work without the appropriate permissions and permits. Multiple meetings and discussions have occurred with the owners and operators with very little effort on their part to correct these violations. This left the Town with no choice but to issue a cease and desist order.”
The statement went on to cite “life safety violations” including fire sprinkler and fire alarm issues, also in the instances where permits had been issued, no certificates of compliance had been granted by the Town’s division of Fire Prevention indicating that the work had been approved.
“The Division of Fire Prevention will continue to work with the owners and operators to achieve compliance and to reopen as soon as possible,” the statement read in closing. “The amount of time this will take will be up to them.”
The hotel has humble beginnings as the former Old Forge Lifesaving Station in Center Moriches, which was floated over to Ocean Bay Park after the station was decommissioned and sold as surplus by the U.S. Coast Guard in the first half of the 20th century.
While popular for its rustic charm, this is not the first crisis in recent memory for the Ocean Bay Park hotel. A fire in the staff lodging building prompted mutual aid response of over a half dozen fire companies from neighboring Fire Island communities as well as greater Long Island hamlets just before the Fourth of July holiday in 2015, displacing workers and leading to the death of a pet dog in the blaze.
“Since taking over the property, we’ve upgraded every aspect of public safety and we’re looking forward to a summer that surpasses the expectations of not only our guests, but those of the community as well,” says an email issued by Fire Island Beach House in response to our calls for comment. “The Fire Marshals have been extremely helpful assisting us with correcting problems that date back to prior ownership. We view them as partners in the community helping us provide a safe hotel to Long Island and the Fire Island community.”
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