For more than three decades, Great Neck resident Raymond A. Plakstis wore the uniform of a firefighter, a job his newlywed wife helped him select when he asked whether she preferred he be a first responder who carried a fire hose or a gun.
On Tuesday, Plakstis, who died at 57 in November 2018 of 9/11-related illness, joined seven other Long Islanders whose names are now etched in stone at the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Albany because they chose to battle fires — one of humankind’s fiercest foes — but lost their lives to save others.
“I was honored that my husband’s name was going to be put up on the wall,” said Donna Plakstis of her husband, the former Great Neck Alerts fire chief and deputy mayor. “He was well deserving of it.”
The eight Long Islanders and 15 others bring to 2,575 the number of New York State firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The latest batch of names includes 10 first responders who died of 9/11-related illnesses.
The name of FDNY Chief Ronald Spadafora, who lived in Levittown before moving to New York City in 2004, was also added to the memorial. He died in June 2018 of 9/11-related illnesses.
“New York’s firefighters risk their lives every day, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice while running toward danger to protect the communities they serve,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a news release announcing Oct. 8 as Firefighter Appreciation Day and the addition of the names to the wall in Empire State Plaza. “Firefighter Appreciation Day honors the legacies of these courageous men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect the people of this state and helps to ensure they will be remembered forever.”
Cuomo also issued proclamations designating Oct. 6 through 12 as Fire Prevention Week and Tuesday as Fire Appreciation Day.
“Each of their stories is a testament to the heroism that is part of everyday life for those who answer the call and put on their uniform,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “We honor their bravery, and the bravery and sacrifice of their families and loved ones.”
Other Long Islanders whose names are being added to the wall include John Buhler of Floral Park, Richard Kaplan of Jericho, Robert Langer of Westbury, Robert Lembo of Stony Brook, Christopher Raguso of Commack, Paul Tokarski of East Quogue and Keith Young of Wantagh.
“It was beautiful,” said Carmela Raguso, whose husband, Christopher Raguso, was a master sergeant in the New York Air National Guard and a lieutenant in the FDNY at Ladder Company 155 in Jamaica, Queens.
He died last year while on a mission in Iraq when the helicopter he was in crashed near the Syrian border. He was 39.
“It’s an honor to know he will be up there with other heroes from New York State,” Raguso said, adding that she and other family members and friends — including members of the FDNY, Commack Fire Department and Air Force — were able to “touch his name” on the wall during the ceremony in Albany.
Kaley Young, whose father, Keith Young, died at 53 in March 2018 of 9/11-related synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, said she could not attend the ceremony but was touched he was recognized along with his firefighting peers.
“We just feel really honored that our dad, his legacy is continuing,” she said, adding that Keith Young retired in 2016 after nearly two decades as an FDNY firefighter. He was assigned to Ladder Company 158 in Springfield Gardens, Queens.
“We really appreciate all the FDNY has done to recognize our dad and all the firemen who have passed during 9/11 and after 9/11,” she said. “He loved being a fireman and he loved the family that gave him in his life as well. He always said it was the greatest job in the world.”
Corrections: Earlier versions of this story misstated where FDNY Chief Ronald Spadafora lived at the time of his death and the month he died.