East Meadow junior firefighter honored with scholarship, award


An East Meadow family with deep ties to the East Meadow Fire Department, is continuing to support the efforts of youth involved in the department’s Junior Fire Company.

The Finkelman Family Fund, established in 2018 by Jody Ratner and her siblings Michael Finkelman, Lori Finkelman and Amy Counts, was created in honor of their parents, Nelson and Gloria Finkelman to provide scholarships for superior junior firefighters.

Nelson was a life member of the fire department and was long involved with Nassau County’s volunteer fire services, serving as a deputy instructor at the Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage. He was also instrumental in the founding of the Nassau County Firefighters Burn Center at the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Gloria always supported Nelson’s efforts and was instrumental in his success.

Ratner explained that after her father and mother died in 2013 and 2016 respectively, she and her siblings sold a property upstate that her parents had owned. They decided to put the money into a bank account and create a scholarship fund in their memory.

Michael Finkelman, a two-term ex-chief in the East Meadow Fire Department, a member of the Board of Commissioners, and an instructor at the Fire Service Academy — just like his dad — died in 2019. The scholarship now honors his memory too.

“The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding high school senior members of the East Meadow fire Department Junior Firefighters,” Ratner said. “They are recommended by their supervisor and are selected for their exemplary dedication, enthusiasm, leadership and commitment to serving the department and the community.”

This year’s scholarship went to Matteo Montoni, 17 of East Meadow. Montoni is a senior at W.T. Clarke High School and joined the Junior Fire Company at 14 in July 2021. He plans to attend Farmingdale State College in the fall.

Montoni was motivated to join the junior fire company, following in his brother Nick’s footsteps. Nick is now a volunteer at Engine Company No. 3 in East Meadow and is also an emergency medical technician with the New York City Fire Department. His brother received the Finkelman scholarship in 2021.

“I actually got six months with him as juniors, before he aged out,” Montoni said. “In that time, and even before that, I just fell in love with it.”

Youths interested in becoming a member of the fire service at 18 can join the junior fire company between the ages of 14 and 17. In East Meadow, the junior fire company generally holds two meetings and two training sessions each month, and provides opportunities to learn about fire, rescue and emergency medical services in a safe, controlled, educating and fun environment.

There are benefits to joining the junior fire company, including various scholarships and grants provided for higher education, the ability to enroll in emergency medical technical school through Nassau BOCES, and volunteer hours, which are often required for college admissions and other programs.

East Meadow’s junior fire company is led by its advisor, Ex-Chief Joseph Lennon.

Montoni said as a junior firefighter, he participated in several training, and while they do not go into fires, they do get to see live burns at the Old Bethpage training facility. And at open houses the East Meadow Fire Department hosts, the junior firefighters take on a unique role.

“We walk around and try to get the kids used to people in (fire) suits,” he said, “which is a big thing for me.”

At the East Meadow Fire Department’s board meeting on June 3, Montoni was honored with the award in a brief ceremony. He will receive a $500 scholarship from the fund. He was also recognized at W.T. Clarke High School’s senior scholarship ceremony on June 10.

“Matteo, you were selected for your dedication, enthusiasm and leadership, and your commitment to serving the department,” Ratner said at the board meeting. “We hope that you will continue to be involved in volunteer activities, especially with the fire department, and you’ll go on to enrich your own life in service.”

“It’s awesome,” Montoni said of the honor. “I got the same thing as my brother, so it means a lot to me. The recognition — it’s not the reason I do it, but it’s always good.”