Ask the volunteers in the Baldwin Fire Department to describe firefighter Michael Dolan, and they’ll tell you the 28-year-old is one of the most generous people they know. “Michael is one of the few people I know who would honestly give you the shirt off his back without a question,” said Christopher Abed, First Aid Company captain, “even if he just met you five minutes ago.”
“I would have to agree with that,” Brien Cummings, the Hose Company Four captain, added. “That definitely describes him.”
It was Dolan’s giving spirit that led him to join the department in 2011. “I wanted to give back to the community I’ve lived in my entire life,” he said in an interview.
Last Saturday, it was Baldwin’s turn to give back to Dolan, who has lung cancer.
Several dozen people packed Fire Department headquarters on Saturday for a night of comedy hosted by the Laughter Saves Lives Foundation, a traveling troupe of standup comedians that raises money for first responders in need.
John Larocchia, a retired New York City firefighter, founded Laughter Saves Lives after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “I lost 19 of my guys on Sept. 11,” Larocchia, of North Bellmore, said in an interview. “And most of them were funny guys . . . so I thought, what better way to remember them than by making people laugh?”
The group does benefit shows for firefighters and police officers, and monthly performances for veterans. With other retired first responders and comedian Maureen Langan, Larocchia, who has been doing standup for about 25 years, kept Baldwinites laughing for about two hours.
The former firefighter heard about Dolan’s story through his son, who met Dolan at a show last year. Larocchia helped the Dolan family before last Saturday’s show by making a car payment for Bobbi Dolan, Michael’s mother.
“He’s been great,” Bobbi said of Larocchia. “I love what he’s doing.”
But the comedian would like to do more for people like Dolan. “We want to get to the point where we can make mortgage payments for people,” he said.
Bobbi, who is a nurse, is a member of First Aid Company; she joined after watching her son in the Fire Department. “I saw his enthusiasm for the job and how much he loved it,” she said. “He really did just want to give back to the community, and that’s just the type of guy Michael is.”
Michael, who works as a design engineer, enjoyed six years with the department before he had to take time off because of his illness.
“It’s a little more hands-on, technical stuff than just sitting at a desk all day,” he said of firefighting. “It keeps you a little more in the real world.”
Dolan, when asked for a memory of the department that sticks out to him, recalled the time a member spotted a car in the first-floor window of a Grand Avenue business.
“Someone was driving under the influence and they hit a car, and that car got knocked into the window,” Dolan said. “And it was kind of interesting, I looked above and there was a sign for an alcohol rehab clinic. So the irony was great. That was one of my more interesting calls.”
He started having breathing problems last July, and his doctors first thought he was battling pneumonia — but after visiting Northwell-LIJ at the behest of his mother and her co-workers, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer, a type of cancer that affects non-smokers.
“It was a shock — it was a nightmare,” Dolan said. “I started searching it on WebMD like everyone does.”
He has since been receiving treatment at Northwell-LIJ Hospital, including cutting-edge targeted immunotherapy that has only been around for a few months.
“It’s scary, but it’s a little less scary when you have the best tools,” he said.
The standup event was not the first time Baldwin has come together for Dolan. Last fall, a fundraiser was held at Kitty O Hara’s, and a GoFundMe page has garnered more than $30,000 in donations.
“It’s been very overwhelming,” Dolan said.
There is no known cure for Stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer, but the Baldwinite said he hopes the treatment he is receiving will allow him to return to work.
“It was fun at first not having to get up in the morning for work,” he said. “But now I just find myself asking people, ‘Hey, do you want to go to the laundromat or something?’”