By Rebecca Melnitsky
Honorary Chief Eugene “Geno” Tesoriero was honored for his 70 years of service in the Great Neck Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Fire Company on Sunday.
“It’s not often you can say somebody has given 70 years to an organization,” said Vigilant President Phil Katz. “Let alone one that he received no compensation from, just [giving] out of the goodness of his heart to help his community, and that’s our very own Gene Tesoriero.”
About 50 people came to the party at the fire house on Cutter Mill Road on Sunday, including Tesoriero’s family and longtime fellow firefighters, friends, teen volunteers and children, as well as politicians and local officials from Great Neck and the surrounding villages.
“One of my first fires, Chief [Conrad] Singer was on the roof of a building and his battery in his radio went,” remembered Treasurer Stephen Goodman. “I was right below him and he yelled at me ‘Get me a battery,’ and there was a ladder leaning against the building right at that spot. Someone handed me a battery and before I could even take a step toward the ladder, someone grabbed the battery out of my hand, pushed me aside, and scooted up the ladder at the age of about 75 years old: Gene Tesoriero.”
Goodman also recalled that when they went to meetings, Tesoriero did one of two things: he either slept on the way home or he would get a cup of coffee at the last minute without putting a lid on it. “And we drove half an hour home from a meeting and he never spilled a drop,” he said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Born on March 10, 1929, Tesoriero joined Vigilant on Oct. 6, 1947, when he was 18. “You really needed people to come together in the community, to be active,” Fire Chief Josh Forst said. “And one of the ways that people were active was joining the Vigilant Fire Company.”
Tesoriero attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy, where he played football and graduated in 1953. While a midshipman in the academy, he traveled to ports in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Pakistan, Germany, India, Egypt, Italy, China and Japan.
He has also remained active with the Academy’s alumni association, frequently presenting awards to graduates.
Tesoriero then went on to work in the maritime insurance inspection industry. “He used his training and experience from the Academy to inspect ships and ensure their safety,” said Forst.
He has also been a member of St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church for many decades, sometimes volunteering as an usher.
All this time he continued to serve on the Fire Department, conducting training courses, assisting young firefighters, and spending many years on the Vigilant Board of Trustees. In 2004 he became a member of the Fire Police.
At the celebration, Tesoriero received proclamations from the villages of Great Neck, Kensington, Great Neck Plaza, Thomaston, and the Town of North Hempstead.
He also received a citation from Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso, as well as recognition from the Long Island Antique Fire Apparatus Association, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, and the Nassau County Firemen’s Association, organizations in which Tesoriero is a longtime member.
Finally, Tesoriero received two helmets, although late, celebrating his first 50 years and Honorary Chief title, as well as a new jacket and hat noting his 70 years, all from his fellow firefighters.
After the ceremony, Tesoriero said that Vigilant Company was like his family. When asked what advice he would have for young firefighters, Tesoriero said, “Listen to the boss.”