Although Valley Stream firefighter and EMT Michael Field is gone, memories of his belly laugh remain throughout the community.
Now his name will adorn a bridge at the Corona Avenue exit to Valley Stream where he grew up and gave his life to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 100 friends, family and firefighters gathered Saturday at the Valley Stream Fire Department, where they remembered Field and dedicated the Michael J. Field Memorial Bridge over the Southern State Parkway at Exit 15.
Field, 59, served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT for 33 years, rising to captain and warden on the fire council. He also spent 15 years with the FDNY and responded to Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He died April 8 after responding to a medical emergency at a home March 24 where he was treating a COVID-19 patient and later contracted the virus. He was the father of three sons who are members of the fire department.
His son Richard Field said his father wouldn’t want the elaborate dedication ceremony in his honor Saturday.
"He didn’t like the recognition. He always did his job and that was it," Richard Field said.
Valley Stream Mayor Ed Fare, who sat next to Field starting in seventh grade, said he saved text messages with Field while he was in the hospital the week before he died.
"We all know why we’re here today. But it’s still unbelievable. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, ‘I can’t believe he’s gone,’ " Fare said. "COVID took so much from us, but it also took Mike. He was a character, but he was our character."
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Valley Stream) passed a bill, signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to rename the Corona Avenue bridge for Field. The signs on the parkway were unveiled Saturday morning.
"We’re here to honor the life of a brave soul, whose courage and sacrifice will stand as an example for all future generations," Kaminsky said. "This is not just to honor the life and service here in Valley Stream as firefighters and EMTs, but as a symbol of what we have endured as a state, country and the world confronting the pandemic and the greatness of the human heart during these difficult times."
Solages said Field was a selfless public servant who gave whatever free time he had back to the community.
"Michael was one of those gems," she said. "He served in every capacity possible. He believed in the American spirt. He believed in the America we love and know. Today we pray for all the families who lost a loved one during this pandemic and all those, including the president, who are suffering from COVID-19. Let’s honor Michael’s spirit and ensure we are all good citizens."
Valley Stream Fire Chief Patrick Scanlon said Field was a beloved member of the department who answered calls during the pandemic. He described his infectious belly laughs that still reverberate in their memories.
"It’s not how Michael died that made him a hero, but how he lived," Scanlon said.