Rockville Centre resident Michael J. Schnitzer never took a day off. A member of the New York City Department of Corrections’ Emergency Services Unit, Schnitzer was particularly proud of his perfect attendance record, which had even been recognized with an award.
That award was one of several he racked up during a 26-year career that included service in the New York City Department of Corrections and personal security detail, as well as working on Homeland Security initiatives.
Schnitzer died on Jan. 6, after a battle with throat cancer attributed to his efforts at Ground Zero. He was 69.
He was there almost every day for eight months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said his wife, Barbara Schnitzer. Just two months later, he assisted at another horrific scene: the American Airlines crash in the Rockaways that killed all 260 passengers and crew as well as five on the ground.
Schnitzer’s perfect attendance record changed after his recovery efforts at Ground Zero. In May 2002, he was hospitalized with a collapsed lung and due to ongoing health issues, retired from the Emergency Services Unit in 2004. Schnitzer was diagnosed with cancer last year.
As a member of the unit, Schnitzer was one of 300 members called to respond to the city’s worst disasters.
“It was an honor to work in that unit,” said George Jackson, who was Schnitzer’s partner for 12 years. “They didn’t just take anyone. You had to be a special type of person to be nominated and Mike was one of those. He was a dedicated guy.”
Jackson described Schnitzer as the “perfect partner,” adding that the two were like brothers.
“You wouldn’t find no better guy than Michael,” said Jackson, who now lives in Georgia. “He was a stand-up good guy. He didn’t boast or brag, but just went about his business and led by example.”
That example was not only professional, but personal. Jackson recalls that Schnitzer would talk about his children constantly and was a “total family man.”
“He was an example for me of how to be a family person,” Jackson said. “He made it easier for me to be a father.”
A Merrick native, Schnitzer met his future wife while the two were waiting in line to buy lotterytickets. They raised their children in Rockville Centre, where Schnitzer was the family chef, dishing up “unbelievable” pot roasts and dinners that were beautifully presented. Having owned a landscaping business earlier in his career, he was also a passionate gardener, even asking others if he could work on their lawns.
“He was a gentleman. Manners came very naturally to him,” Barbara Schnitzer said. “He was a good man.”
In addition to his wife, Schnitzer is survived by his father, William Schnitzer, daughter Christina Clarke and her husband, Phil, son Adrian Schnitzer and his wife, Gemma, and son Michael Schnitzer and his fiancee, Keri DeResto, as well as three grandchildren and six siblings. He was predeceased by daughter Jacqueline in 2016.