Throughout Thomas Cook’s 64-year career in the Rockville Centre Fire Department, there were nights he came home dirty from fighting fires, recalled his son, Brian, who is now the department’s chief.
“I would listen to the stories about what he did,” Brian said. “It just made me feel good about what he was doing and made me want to do the same thing.”
Cook, who held many titles over more than six decades in the department, died on Nov. 4, of cardiac arrest. He was 82.
Born at Mercy Medical Center in 1936, he lived in Rockville Centre his whole life, said Brian. Cook served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army for four years in the 1950s. He joined the department in 1954, and over the years served as second lieutenant, first lieutenant and captain of Reliance Hose Co. 3. He was also the department’s assistant chief fire inspector, and chairman of its Good and Welfare Committee, which helped members and their families in cases of death and injury.
In 1973 he responded to a fire at the Wayside Furniture Store, on the corner of North Forest Avenue and Sunrise Highway. Louie Franco, 64, who served as chief of the department from 1991 to 1993, recalled that night. “When we pulled out of our firehouse and we came up Forest Avenue, we just saw [a] heavy volume of smoke,” he said. “When we pulled up, flames were coming out of the roof and all the windows.” Cook wasn’t on the truck, Franco said.
“He went in before the Fire Department got there, and found them in the basement and brought them out,” Brian noted. Franco learned that Cook went in without protective gear. The rescue earned Cook Nassau County’s Schaefer Award the next year, his son added, which was one of several recognitions he received throughout his career.
Cook became an honorary chief when he completed 50 years of service. In 2013, he was among 33 first responders from 15 departments honored by the Town of Hempstead at its annual Firematic Service Awards. Last month, Rockville Centre’s American Legion Post 303 recognized his longtime service at its 10th annual Law and Order Awards.
Franco joined the Fire Department in 1972, when Cook was captain of Reliance Hose Co. 3, and he spent the next 46 years working alongside the man he called one of the company’s best captains. Focused on keeping up with firematic procedures and trainings, Cook “looked out for his members,” Franco said. “That was his best trait.”
Cook remained active in the department later in his life, driving the truck used for rescuing people from vehicles until a few years ago. After that, Cook, who Franco noted was a great woodworker, would fix furniture around the firehouse and make plaques, among other tasks.
“There was never a lull in his activity. He was always there,” Franco said, noting that he and Cook are similar in that way. “We’re into it. We have been our whole career until we can’t do it anymore. Tom was active right to the end.”
Besides inspiring Brian to join the department, Cook’s grandson also followed in his footsteps. Johnny Cook, 18 at the time, became a probationary firefighter last February. Cook swore him in as captain of the village’s Junior Fire Department. At 15, he was the youngest captain ever.
“It’s been a good  years,” Cook told the Herald during an interview in May. “I’m happy here. I’m happy to serve … and I’m hoping the same for my son and grandson.”
“Honorary Chief Thomas Cook was an instrumental force during his six decades with Reliance Hose Company No. 3,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said in a statement. “Throughout his extensive career of dedicated fire service, Chief Cook helped to save the lives of countless people. His legacy will be defined by his selfless nature and sincere desire to serve the needs of others. He truly will be missed.”
In addition to his son, Cook is survived by his sister, Eileen Oppenheimer; and daughters Christine Maher, Maureen Wesoly and Nancy Anne Cook. His wife, MaryAnne Cook, died in 2005.
“He was very much a family man,” Brian said. “His family meant everything to him, and he did everything he could all his life to make sure we always had the most we could have.”
Cook’s funeral was held on Nov. 9 at St. Agnes Cathedral, and he was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury. In lieu of flowers, the family requests supporting the Nassau County Burn Center Foundation. To donate, visit www.burncenterfoundation.org.