Fire personnel garbed in pressed uniforms steadily streamed in.
The floor creaked with each step. In this slow solemn march, men and women from various fire companies had come to pay tribute to a mother figure: former Vigilant Fire Company President Doris Groene, who now rested in an open casket with commendations and tribute murals nearby in her fire company’s headquarters.
They were in the same room where many celebrations had been held.
The walls paid tribute to milestones of Vigilant Fire Company: their anniversaries, awards and photos of past successes. Now, there was a table lined with memories of her in the back, and even more framed pictures hanging above from her 31 years with the company.
“Sergeant-at-arms, please call the rolls,” Vigilant President Phillip Katz said.
“Mr. President, the rolls have been taken and called,” Sergeant-at-Arms Zachary Goldfarb responded. “And past President Doris Groene has failed to respond.”
Groene responded to thousands of emergency calls, both in the community and within the company over the last three decades.
Assistant Fire Chief Joshua Charry estimated in a previous interview that the emergency calls likely hit five digits.
Fire officials said over 300 came to pay tribute to Groene, who was flown in from Nevada, where she and her husband Mickey Groene moved to in 2011.
They ranged from Vigilant EMS Captain Joe Oginski, who worked with Groene for a short time, to Rabbi Marim Charry, who she convinced to get more involved in the fire services.
“Always solicitous, always asking, always wanting to do something, and above all, as all of you know so well, always a fighter. She fought. She fought well,” Rabbi Charry, a nearly two-decade member of the fire company, said before the large group of firefighters and family.
“But as with all battles, sometime it comes to an end, and that’s why we’re here this evening: to give her a fond farewell.”
Most attendees were from Vigilant Fire Company.
But of course there were representatives from the Alert Fire Company, once headed by her son Ray Plakstis, now clad in a safety mask. Port Washington members also paid their respects – after all, her son Thomas McDonough served as their chief.
All of them removed their hats for the remarks.
Vigilant Fire Chief Joshua Forst stepped to the podium after Charry spoke. He began by listing some of her accolades – six life-saving awards, EMS member of the year in 1996, membership in Nassau County Fire Association, among others.
But he soon recalled how she and Mickey Groene, her husband, were always around on Friday nights.
Forst told of times where she spoke with members suffering from particularly tough days, phone calls about the birth of his daughter, and the sometimes tough love, like when she threatened to take his blue light away for reckless driving – to name a few things.
“Really, it hasn’t sunk in, I think for a lot of us,” Forst said, noting that it will really hit near her birthday. “Somewhere around November 28, Doris’s card would always go up on the window downstairs in the downstairs lounge because she made sure she was the first person to send a Christmas card in – every year.”
In between were speakers like McDonough, who chose to keep it short.
Soon enough, the lines of fire personnel stepped toward Groene’s open casket, group by group, while officials stood nearby.
Each time they slowly raised their arms into steadfast salutes before departing for their seats.
At ceremony’s end, family and friends spoke among one another, lingering long after the official ceremony ended. Some embraced each other.
A few then gathered downstairs at round tables, snacking on sandwiches and pasta and potato salads.
Many of Groene’s grandchildren went on to be involved in the fire services.
Tyler Plakstis is an Alert Fire Company firefighter, for example, while Erin McDonough is an emergency medical technician at Port Washington Fire Department.
“She started our roots in the fire company,” McDonough said.
McDonough’s most powerful memory of Groene was when she flew up for her high school graduation when it wasn’t expected and saw her bright smile.
Meanwhile Plakstis recalled when she took him and his brother to ride all of the casino roller coasters in Las Vegas, Nevada, when he was around 12 years old.
“She cared for everybody,” Plakstis said. “She put everybody before herself.”