A firefighter until the end
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Casey Welt, who served with Finkelman in Ladder Company 2, remembers the month he met Finkelman — January 1969. “He’s actually the first member of the Fire Department that I spoke with,” recalled Welt, 62, who said he came to the EMFD headquarters 44 years ago with an interest in joining the department, and encountered Finkelman.
For the next four-plus decades, the two worked side by side not only in Ladder 2, but in the fire marshal’s office and the Fire Service Academy. “His wife used to call me his second wife,” Welt joked, adding, “If I needed advice, he was normally the person I’d seek out.”
E.J. Brennan also recalled his first days in the EMFD in 1972, and his first encounters with Finkelman. “I was a newbie know-nothing, and he was the wise old man,” said Brennan, 58.
Over the years, Brennan grew close to the Finkelman family. Michael was a groomsman in his wedding, and Brennan is godfather to one of Michael’s children. Asked what Finkelman’s legacy will be in the department, Brennan said, “His loyalty, his staunch conviction, his love for what he did, his passion for what he did, and his love for his wife, family and kids.”
John J. O’Brien, a past East Meadow fire chief, said that his father, Edward, was a fire chief at the same time as Finkelman in the late ’60s. “I’ve known Nelson all my life,” O’Brien said. “I can still remember his strong, commanding voice back in his day. I was fortunate to experience his teaching in many of his years at the Fire Service Academy. There is no doubt in my mind that I was a better officer and chief for the qualities I found in Nelson H. Finkelman.”
Joe Bopp, of Ladder Company 2, said it was the "little things" about Finkelman that stood out to him. "Coming back to the fire house after a call and seeing Nelson standing by the sign in book and he would always ask, 'How [did] it go?' with an extended arm out for a handshake," Bopp said. "He cared a lot for the Members of the fire department, and especially Ladder Company 2."
Nicholas Corrado, a past chief of Ladder Company 2, said, “He was one of the most dynamic and interesting human beings that I have ever come in contact with in my life … We will never let his memory fade, and we will never stop telling the unbelievably true stories, whether it’s in the firehouse or out on the street. For many years, a legend lived here, and anyone who lives in East Meadow and Nassau County owes a debt of gratitude to Nelson H. Finkelman, even if this is the first time they ever heard his name.”