Kenneth Bleck, president of the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company, died last Thursday after an eight-year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 64.
Bleck was known to the fire department and the community as a “father figure” who loved his family and treated everyone with respect, Vigilant Chief Josh Forst said.
“It’s easy to say that you care about someone, but Kenny genuinely cared about the people,” Forst said. “He was someone who put 100 percent into everything he did.”
Originally from East Meadow, Bleck moved to Great Neck in 1977 and resided in the Village of Great Neck Estates.
He joined the Vigilant Fire Company in October 1992.
Dave Weiss, Vigilant Fire Company chairman, said it wasn’t a “common thing” for a 40-year-old with a wife and two children at home to join the department.
“That was unique for him,” Weiss said. “But he had a passion to go on calls and help people.”
He said that he and Bleck met serving for the department and immediately hit it off.
Aside from becoming “like brothers,” Weiss said, the two became business partners and operated Bagel Mentch on Middle Neck Road.
Bleck also owned Nu-Clear Drive In Cleaners on Middle Neck Road, which he sold a few weeks ago.
“One of his old employees said that if he was Catholic, he’d be a saint,” Weiss said.
His esophageal cancer developed after responding to the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.
Forst said Bleck led two Vigilant ambulances to ground zero. They were then redirected to Chelsea Piers.
After coming back to Great Neck for a couple of hours, he said, Bleck returned to ground zero to serve as an EMT and dig through the pile of debris.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the first and not going to be the last of people who develop cancer because of Sept. 11 and certainly because of firefighting,” Forst said. “Kenny’s legacy going forward is if he was here, he would want to educate and to make sure that we try and take care of those who are still here because of his unfortunate circumstances.”
“It’s a shame that this happened to him,” he added.
Forst said nothing made Bleck happier than his family.
His wife, Linda, Forst said, was always supportive of his efforts even though it meant being away or on call often.
“It’s certainly not easy to live the life for someone as active as he was,” he said. “She was his rock and allowed him to do it all and the love that she showed to him, caring for him the last eight years as he fought cancer, was amazing.”
Forst said the two would sometimes have disagreements, but Bleck never let it get to a personal level.
“He was someone that would tell me I was insane and then 15 minutes later call me and ask if I wanted to go to an Islander game,” he said.
“He was a huge Islanders fan,” Forst added.
The Vigilant Fire Company held a memorial service Sunday evening at the firehouse located at 83 Cutter Mill Road.
Forst said a Vigilant fire truck and a Port Washington Fire Department truck made an arch with their ladders in front of the firehouse.
The Great Neck Alert Fire Company made an arch with its fire trucks in front of Nu-Clear Drive In Cleaners.
At Monday’s funeral service, the Sea Cliff and Syosset fire departments made an arch with their trucks between the Long Island Expressway and Gutterman’s funeral home in Woodbury, Forst said.
He said the East Williston and Williston Park fire departments did the same thing at the cemetery in Babylon where he was buried.
“Kenny used to tell his family that the fire department puts on one hell of a funeral and that was what they said to us,” Forst said. “Linda’s remark was that it’s too bad Kenny’s not around to see this because he would have loved it.”
In addition to his wife, Bleck is survived by two daughters, Jamie and Carrie, and three grandchildren.