At Christmas time, Island Park volunteer firefighter Michael Fischer would dress up as an elf, escorting Santa Claus through town and bringing cheer to the village.
Over the years, Fischer, who joined the department in 2013, would develop a reputation for giving back to the community, as well as dependability — the man in the department everyone knew to call at 3 a.m. to drive the ambulance for a neighbor in need.
On Thursday, friends, family and colleagues said goodbye to the man known as 'Fish," during a funeral service in a packed church in Island Park.
Fischer, 38, died of an apparent heart attack Sunday afternoon at a fundraiser for a sick child — one last act of community service — following a morning department training exercise. He was the first Island Park firefighter to die in the line of duty in the department's 98-year history.
"He was one of those guys who hit the ground running and wanted to be involved in everything. Wanted to learn. Wanted to broaden his horizons," said former Island Park Fire Chief Anthony D'Esposito, who posthumously promoted Fischer Wednesday to honorary chief.
"And one of the things that I love most about Fish is that it wasn't only about firefighting. He's a third generation member of the Island Park Fire Department and he loved more than anything the firefighting aspect of it. But what he loved even more was the community aspect of it," he said.
Dozens of firefighters from across the county lined Long Beach Road on Thursday morning as Fischer's flag-draped coffin was carried from the Christopher T. Jordan Funeral Home to Sacred Heart Church next door.
A pipe band played "Taps" while FIscher's two sisters, Tiffany Fischer, of Island Park, and Allison George, of Pelham, watched tearfully. D'Esposito presented Fischer's siblings with the flag after the funeral.
"He loved his community and he wasn't afraid of fighting fires," George told Newsday on Wednesday.
Msgr. John J. Tutoné said Fischer, who was born and raised in Island Park, had his Communion and confirmation inside the small Roman Catholic Church.
"And today he is here again much too soon," Tutoné told the crowd, which filled every pew of the church.
On Sunday, Fischer rode on a company engine to Peter's Clam Bar on Long Beach Road, where firefighters were holding their annual clam-eating contest to raise money for Cooper Graham, the infant son of Oceanside Fire Commissioner Michael Graham. Cooper was diagnosed in May with a rare childhood cancer.
After arriving at the event, Fischer went into the bathroom to wash up, then returned to the dining area and suffered an apparent heart attack, colleagues said.
"He died at a fundraiser for a young boy who had cancer," said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman. "So this was an individual who gave of himself not only as a volunteer firefighter, but as a member of the community. So he'll be remembered as a firefighter, but also as a humanitarian."
Fischer graduated from West Hempstead High School, attended Nassau Community College and worked for the Nassau County Department of Public Works.
Both Fischer's grandfather and uncle served in the volunteer fire department. Fischer had a version of his grandfather's Island Park Fire Department badge tattooed on his calf and competed in junior firefighting tournaments before joining the department himself.
Second deputy chief of the department Eric Gorton said Fischer was always there to help — whether responding to a building fire or to pick a friend up on the side of the parkway at 5 a.m.
"He was well liked by everybody," Gorton said. "Whether you're inside of the battalion or outside the battalion, everybody loved him. A contagious personality that radiated off everybody else."