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Glenwood Landing firefighter fundraiser aids cancer victim

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Since Pete Morris was diagnosed with colon cancer in May, he has spent much of his time surrounded by his family. His wife, Tonya, gives him all that he needs. His daughter Alyssa, 19, and son, Robby, 17, do what they can to help, and his cousin Rich Brisotti regularly travels from Brooklyn to Morris’s home in Levittown to offer extra support. And his 22-year-old daughter, Grace, is constantly sending her love from Alabama.

The support for Morris doesn’t stop with his blood relatives, though. The Locust Valley, Glenwood Landing and Glen Cove fire departments also consider him family and are lending their support.

An executive chef, Morris was named an honorary firefighter at the departments for his willingness to bring his catered food to dozens of their events. To show its appreciation, the Glenwood Landing Fire Department hosted a benefit on Aug. 18 for his medical treatments, which he and his family described as enormously helpful.

Born on June 3, 1962, Morris grew up in Glen Cove, graduating from Glen Cove High School in 1980. He then attended Nassau Community College, earning his associate’s degree in restaurant management. After working in the culinary industry for a few years, he took over food services at the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, which he ran for 21 years. Most recently, he was head chef and kitchen manager of the 3rd Rail Bar and Grille in Bellmore, which he sold after learning of his diagnosis.

His years of work in the culinary world connected him with North Shore fire departments several times. As he grew closer with the firefighters, he began to provide them with special services, and their members made him an honorary firefighter. Although he has never fought any fires, he has a fire suit and attends members’ events when he can.

“The firefighting community is not friends,” Morris said, “they’re family.”

Morris became particularly involved with the Locust Valley Fire Department thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project, which supports the veteran community throughout the country. Working with department members, Morris has raised a great deal of money for the program, with the most recent fundraiser bringing in more than $62,000. Wounded Warrior holds a special place in the Morris family’s hearts, as Tonya’s father served three tours in Vietnam.

“He doesn’t ask for a lot, but he gives you a lot,” said Dr. Peter Olson, a Locust Valley Fire Department commissioner, of Morris. “I’ve never heard him say ‘no’ to anybody. He always tries to do the right thing, and that’s a rare quality today.”

LVFD Chief James Neumeyer also described Morris as selfless. “He’s the type of guy that would take his own shirt off his back to help you out,” he said, speaking of the many times that Morris volunteered to help at department events.

Morris is less involved with the departments following his diagnosis. He initially went to the doctor on April 30 because he was experiencing shortness of breath. Doctors found he was bleeding internally. After shuttling to and from the doctor’s office for a month, Morris learned that not only did he have colon cancer, but also a cyst in his brain. The cyst was removed on May 21, and his colon and rectum were removed on Aug. 5. However, further scans showed cancer cells in his lymph nodes, which will require further treatment, beginning with six months of chemotherapy.

The surgeries and treatments have become a significant financial burden for the Morris family, which prompted North Shore fire departments to hold a fundraiser. Courtney Citko, whose husband, Bobby Citko, is a former fire chief from Sea Cliff, said everyone knows Morris and was immediately willing to help. She and Morris’s cousin, T.J. Brown, organized the fundraiser.

“Pete is one of a kind,” Courtney said. “He’s the most generous person that I’ve ever met, and that’s really why I wanted to be involved”

He’s “just a great guy,” Bobby said, “willing to do anything for anybody.”

Of the fundraiser, Morris said, “I was just in awe of everything and the love of the community.”

Along with being Morris’s cousin, Brown is also a Glenwood Landing firefighter. He said he knew that a fundraiser was the perfect way to repay Morris for the help that he has given the fire departments.

“We had to pay it forward and give back to him,” Brown said.

The Morris family said they are grateful for the support that they have received, and Tonya noted that the money raised would provide considerable relief for the family, though she did not offer specifics.

Moving forward, the Morris family said they are taking treatment one day at a time. It is an emotional rollercoaster, but the family is staying positive.

“I’m not hoping for anything,” Alyssa said. “I’m thinking and already knowing it’s going to be good. You don’t leave room for chance.”