Thomas Joseph Cuff Jr., who fought for better safety standards and greater recognition of the sacrifices made by volunteer firefighters, devoted his life to the fire service.
Working at the Long Island Lighting Co. for his entire adult life provided security for Cuff, his wife and their four daughters, but he found his calling rushing to fires, first with Garden City’s fire department and then Levittown’s.
“He liked his work but his passion was fire service,” his daughter, Sharon Cuff of Stony Brook, said. “He saw himself as a public servant and this was his role as serving the public and ensuring people’s safety.”
Cuff, of Levittown, died April 22 of heart failure at home with his wife Jane by his side, his family said. He was 86.
Cuff served fire departments and organizations for more than 60 years and was elected president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York in 2008. He also served on a fire service occupational safety committee of the National Fire Protection Association, fire officials said.
Former state Assem. Harvey Weisenberg of Long Beach said Cuff was instrumental in championing a 2012 law that ensured equal treatment of professional and volunteer firefighters for inclusion on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Albany.
“He was a man who was . . . advocating for the people who deserved to be acknowledged,” Weisenberg said.
Cuff also helped the families of fallen firefighters fill out the complicated paperwork needed to apply for federal benefits for survivors of responders killed in the line of duty, Steven Klein, first vice-president of the state firemen’s association, said.
“Tom was a champion of anything that would make a firefighter’s job safer and protect the public,” Klein said.
The son of Loretta and New York State Supreme Court Judge Thomas J. Cuff, he was a third-generation Irish-American and the seventh of eight children raised in Garden City. He went to Chaminade High School in Mineola and then graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in business, Sharon Cuff said.
Cuff met his wife when she showed up uninvited at his parents’ Garden City house in the early 1950s, his daughter said.
“She crashed a party at his house,” Sharon Cuff said.
The two hit it off, wed in 1955 and settled in Levittown. Sharon Cuff said her father was “an extremely good listener” who loved country music and photography, and coached softball.
Cuff was buried last week at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury. He is survived by his wife; daughters Sharon, Susan Fazio of Long Beach, Crissie Sarni and Kate De Vito, both of Levittown, and 10 grandchildren.