About 300 people flocked to the Coral House in Baldwin on Sunday to support lifelong Island Parker William “Willie” Herbert, who is battling cancer.
“I was really overwhelmed with how many people were there,” Herbert said. “It was a real big shindig.”
Herbert, who turns 60 on Dec. 19, has been a member of the Island Park Fire Department for 40 years and served as chief of Hose Company No. 1 in 1999 and 2000. In addition, he worked for the Town of Hempstead’s sanitation department for 27 years. He has lived in Island Park for his entire life and he and his wife, Wendy, have two children, William Jr., 35, and Francine, 33. William Jr. lives in Florida, and was unable to attend the event, Herbert said.
Herbert recalled that he first became interested in becoming a firefighter when he was a child. “It’s a great organization,” he said. “I made so many friends.”
Herbert stopped being active in the IPFD after he suffered a heart attack battling a blaze in 2002, but he is still very much involved with the department and its members. He retired from the town on Sept. 28 after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer and spots were found on his liver. He has been receiving chemotherapy treatment at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in Manhattan, where he will undergo 10 treatments before being reevaluated by doctors, he said. Members of the Fire Department hosted the event to help Herbert and his family defray some of the medical costs.
The IPFD has about 125 members, all of whom work out of one firehouse. Many members of the department attended the event, and Herbert said his friends from places like Florida, Virginia and South Carolina also came, as well as his in-laws from Delaware. In a social media post after the event, Francine expressed her gratitude toward those who attended.
“These past two months have been a roller coaster of emotions, but today’s turnout for his fundraiser was beyond overwhelmingly incredible,” she wrote.
Many attendees were firefighters from the Second Battalion, which includes areas like Oceanside, Baldwin and Freeport. Herbert’s childhood friend Butch Yamali owns the Coral House and provided the venue for the event for no charge. Attendees paid $40 admission and items such as signed jerseys of Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, of Long Beach, and Nashville Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto, of Island Park, were auctioned to raise money.
Town of Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said Herbert was the one who swore him into the department in 1999. He called Herbert “one of the good guys” and said he valued the traditions of the department. He added that Herbert would frequently drive the older members to events and make sure the young newcomers felt acclimated.
“Willie is one of those guys, he’s just a regular guy and always the first to help,” D’Esposito said. “ … Just like your family, when you see one of your own suffering, it takes a toll on everyone.”
Though he and his family are going through a difficult time, Herbert said, they have tried to remain positive. “As long as we’re around family and friends, we’re pretty good,” he said.