On Sept. 11, 2001, FDNY firefighter Michael McDonald was watching TV from his Farmingville home as the first plane struck the World Trade Center. He left home that day, heading straight to Ground Zero via the Long Island Expressway, which was closed to all traffic except emergency responders.
“He was there when the second tower fell,” Diana McDonald said. “He worked long shifts in the forthcoming days, weeks and months at Ground Zero.”
On Aug. 11, Michael McDonald died of lung cancer. He was 64. He is the 181st member of the FDNY to die from a 9/11-related illness, officials said.
He retired in May 2012 after 28 years of service. He spent his entire career at Ladder 128 in Queens.
Michael McDonald joined the FDNY in 1984, the same year he was introduced to his wife by a mutual friend in Long Beach. She was on vacation and he was off duty from his new job.
The couple bought their first home in Farmingville in 1987, where they lived for 29 years. In November 2016, they moved to Leland, North Carolina. Just weeks before, Michael McDonald had surgery to remove the middle lobe of his right lung, his wife said.
“Despite learning of the cancer and knowing treatments would surely follow, he still wanted to make our move to the warmer climate,” said Diana McDonald, 65. “This was our dream and he didn’t want his condition to stand in the way.”
The fun-loving firefighter doted on his wife and only daughter to a fault.
“He wasn’t shy of hard work and always made himself available to family, friends and acquaintances,” Diana McDonald said. “All he asked for in return was his Budweiser at the end of the day.”
A wake and funeral are planned for next Wednesday at Moloney Funeral Home in Lake Ronkonkoma. The wake will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and the service is at 11:30 a.m. at the funeral home, 132 Ronkonkoma Ave.
Michael McDonald is survived by his wife, Diana; daughter, Alyssa Folts; mother, Anne McDonald; sisters Joanne GaNun, Mary Beth GaNun, Kathleen McDonald, Eileen Ryan, Diane O'Keefe and Maureen Scheers; granddaughter, Aurora; and son-in-law, Timothy Folts.
Michael McDonald was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2016, his wife said. The cancer metastasized from his lung to his adrenal glands, bones and liver.
Their daughter, Alyssa Folts, now 31, was in junior high school on 9/11 and was scarred by the attack. She had a friend who lost her firefighter dad that day and knew it could have been her own father.
She held it within her heart and mind to give back to her country, she said. After finishing high school in 2005, she enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy as a tribute to her father, graduating in 2009. She lives in Belgium.
Her father was her first love and spoiled her so that she thought no man ever measured up to him until she met her husband, Timothy Folts. Her parents would visit her at her various stationed locations. Before her father died, she visited him with her 2-year-old daughter, Aurora. She told him how proud she was of him for being a family man, firefighter and 9/11 first responder.
“His response still brings tears to my eyes, because it perfectly summarizes how he always selflessly helped others,” she said. “He replied, ‘Of course, Alyssa, it was my job.’"
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location for Ladder 128.