A scholarship named for a Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department volunteer firefighter who went to work for the New York City Fire Department and died on Sept. 11, 2001, has added a lasting legacy to a lifetime of selfless work.
Kevin O’Rourke, 44 at the time of his death, was rescued by a firefighter as a child, and was inspired to join the volunteer Lawrence-Cedarhurst department, where he served from 1975 to 1982.
He was a dispatcher in 1978 and was elected to lieutenant that year, then became a captain two years later. He also served as a lieutenant and captain of the department’s Hose Company 1. When he moved to Hewlett, he joined the Hewlett Fire Department.
In 1984, O’Rourke left the Hewlett volunteer department to become a New York City firefighter. He was assigned to Engine Company 239. In 1987, as part of a nonmember detail assigned to Squad 1, O’Rourke made a rescue and received an award for his effort and a transfer to Squad 1, where he worked for eight years.
“Kevin was a great fireman, a great guy who would give you the shirt off his back, salt of the earth, quite a person — he left footprints in the sand for people to follow,” said Michael Sperber, a lifelong friend and current chairman of the LCFD board of commissioners.
O’Rourke was transferred by FDNY to the Elite Rescue Company 2 in Brooklyn in 1994, which he was working for when he died. In 17 years as a New York City firefighter , he received seven service awards and three unit citations.
Established in 2002, the Kevin O’Rourke Scholarship has averaged $2,000 annually, and been given to one or more young people. The LCFD initially asked the Lawrence School District for potential recipients, but written requests from fire department members are now submitted to the department chief and the board of commissioners. O’Rourke’s family attends the scholarship ceremony at the LCFD firehouse every year.
“It’s a nice way to keep his memory alive and help the community out by giving money to new high school graduates,” LCFD Chief Tom Foy said of the scholarship. Foy did not know O’Rourke, but has heard many of his colleagues speak highly of him.
In Crown Heights, where Rescue Company is headquartered O’Rourke became a one-man bicycle shop, repairing the bike tire of the neighborhood children and teaching them fire safety techniques such as “stop, drop and roll.”
Through the years, the Lawrence-Cedarhurst department has honored O’Rourke’s memory. The 2012 firehouse extension was dedicated to him. There are two street signs, Kevin O’Rourke Way, one at the intersection of Broadway and Washington Avenue and another at the intersection of Central and Washington avenues, both in Lawrence.
Outside the firehouse, flanked by two flower pots there is a stone monument that notes his service to the LCFD and FDNY, along with a traditional Irish blessing: “May the roads rise to meet to you, may the winds be always at your back and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hallow of his hand.”
Rebecca Adler, daughter of the LCFD’s second assistant chief, Meyer Adler, was this year’s Kevin O’Rourke scholarship recipient in July. “I’m very honored,” her father said. “It’s a way of remembering Kevin’s legacy and continuing in the fine tradition of community service.”