Four decades ago -- responding to one of the biggest roof fires of his career -- Fire Chief Nelson H. Finkelman of the East Meadow department raced to douse flames at yet-to-be opened Nassau University Medical Center.
Sunday, nearly a year after his death, the hospital honored the firefighter for his fundraising efforts on behalf of the Nassau County Firefighter's Burn Center at NUMC, the largest in the region.
Donations were used to purchase emergency equipment and supplies for thousands of Long Island patients.
A bronze, rectangular plaque depicting Finkelman ready for work in his hard hat and fire jacket was mounted on the wall to the burn center's entrance during Sunday's ceremony.
It was there that colleagues thanked Finkelman posthumously for his tireless dedication as a fundraiser.
"The loss of Nelson has created a void," Frank Messina, the former fire chief of East Meadow who replaced Finkelman as secretary of the burn center's foundation, said before roughly 60 firefighter officials.
Finkelman, who died at the hospital from stroke complications Oct. 2, 2013, at 83, spent his entire 56-year volunteer career with the East Meadow Fire Department, starting in 1958 and rising to chief nine years later.
He was a Nassau County fire marshal supervisor and a chief instructor at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in his professional career.
Tales of Finkelman chasing down and extinguishing fires sprinkled around small circles at the burn center on the sixth floor of the hospital after the 15-minute dedication.
There was the big roof fire he responded to at the medical center while it was under construction in 1971, family members said. The most impactful may have come in November 1972 when he and his firefighting son, Michael Finkelman, now 59, responded to their first house fire together, in Levittown. It was Michael's second day as a volunteer.
"I didn't know what I was doing. He told me to shut up and watch," said Michael Finkelman, now a commissioner of the East Meadow Fire Department. "We went to a bunch [of fires] together."
Finkelman grew up in Brooklyn and relocated to East Meadow shortly after getting married in his mid-20s, family members said. One day soon thereafter, the loud sounds of fire horns and trucks zooming by caught his attention, family members said. It wasn't long before he went to the department and signed up.
Asked about his fundraising efforts, Nelson Finkelman's widow, Gloria Finkelman, said, "It's wonderful. He was very passionate about this area of the hospital."