The Five Towns are in Joe Gelb’s blood. He was raised in Lawrence and settled in Atlantic Beach 18 years ago with his wife Barbra after living in Woodmere and Hewlett Bay Park.
Gelb’s mother helped in the construction of the original Temple Israel in Lawrence, and he founded the Hewlett Business Association and served on the board of directors of both the local Young Men’s Christian Association and the Nassau-Suffolk YMCA, but his service with Atlantic Beach Rescue is one of his most eye-catching endeavors.
Now 86, Gelb first joined the all-volunteer emergency response unit when he moved to Atlantic Beach 18 years ago. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” Gelb said. “Very rewarding and gratifying.”
He began as a chauffeur but quickly received his EMT certification. Gelb can no longer drive, he said that his doctor told him that he has 20/400 vision, but he still rides his three-wheeled bike in responding to a majority of the rescue unit’s calls. He’s also served on the board as treasurer and secretary. “I tell them my door’s always open,” he said, adding he’ll often fill in the gaps in what the crew needs done. “When there’s a lack of anybody else they’ll turn to me.”
Because of his eyesight, Jonathan Kohan, who was chief when Gelb joined, and currently serves as an assistant chief, nicknamed Gelb “Magoo,” after the classic cartoon character Mr. Magoo who regularly ended up in comedic situations because of his extreme near-sightedness. “I remember the day he walked in and introduced himself,” Kohan said. “He said that he was interested in joining, and that ‘I’ll be the best member you’ve ever had … He’s really an easy guy to work with, we’d like to keep him coming back as long as he’d like … He’s a stalwart of the organization.”
Kohan recalled a snowstorm a few years ago where some members stayed home, but Gelb was right there helping to prepare for any possible calls. “He’s a very caring guy,” Kohan said. “A true team player.”
Avi Golan, the current chief, was a member when Gelb joined, and said that he’s a great motivator. “Even at 86 he’s still unbelievably strong,” Golan said. “He’s always jumping as the first to help … I’m absolutely glad to have him on the squad to show and encourage the younger members … If he can show up there’s no reason that you guys can’t.”
Gelb, an attorney and certified public accountant, also shares his business expertise online with Small Business Advisors Inc., but he still makes time for the rescue squad. “When I first got involved someone asked my wife what happens if there’s a call at 2 a.m.,” said Gelb with a chuckle. “‘Pokey’ [his nickname for his wife] said he goes on the call. Medical challenges can’t tell time.”
While Atlantic Beach Rescue has Gelb and other dedicated volunteers, the unit could always use some more helping hands. Golan said that those interested in becoming a member can go to the headquarters building at 1 Rescue Road in Atlantic Beach for a tour and to fill out an application when the unit trains on Saturdays beginning at 8 a.m.