The Oyster Bay Fire Department was Roy E. Gier’s second home. Once a member of the department’s Teddy’s Boys Drill Team, he competed against other fire departments, and the team won year after year. For Gier, it was all about honoring his beloved OBFD, where he was part of a brotherhood that family and friends say he treasured. His fellow firefighters said he would do anything for the department and the community as well.
The ex-chief died on Aug 30, at age 55, succumbing to heart failure after being ill for months. As the purple bunting was affixed to the firehouse, his lifelong friend Doug Flynn, also an OBFD member, paused. He still couldn’t believe that Roy was gone, he said. Then Flynn apologized, saying he was in a fog.
Gier, born and raised in Oyster Bay, belonged to three fire departments during his lifetime, North Bellmore, Syosset and Oyster Bay, which he came to serve in the early 1990s. He battled Suffolk County wildfires, was a first responder at the Avianca plane crash in Cove Neck, where he helped save scores of the 158 passengers, and also helped his embattled community after the nor’easter, called the 100 year storm.
His roots were in Oyster Bay, and like other youth in the hamlet, he played football and ran track, as a member of Oyster Bay High School’s teams. Gier was popular, a talented athlete and always had leadership qualities, Flynn said. They had been best friends since the third grade.
Gier’s mother, Linda, said her son was the first to smile. “He was amiable and a happy- go-lucky guy,” she said. “He felt things deeply but couldn’t say them, so he wrote letters telling me how much he appreciated his family.”
He was the oldest of four children. When his father, Roy D. Gier, died in 2003, Gier became the protector of his youngest sister, Linda Beth Gier.
“My earliest memories of Roy are when I was very young, probably three. He took me to the sump to watch him play ice hockey,” Linda Beth recalled, then she laughed. “He’d come in at 6 in the morning singing that it was time to get up while holding a blow dryer. He was always joking around.”
Gier was also his adopted daughter Claire’s protector. His wife, Janice Menke-Gier, said that she had adopted Claire initially. Gier immediately fell in love with the little girl, who was 15 months old when he met her, when the two began dating seven years ago. After they married in 2016, Gier decided to adopt Claire.
“He went everywhere with Claire and was the perfect father,” said Menke-Gier, adding that their 8-year-old was devastated. “Roy always told her that he would always be here for her. I keep telling Claire that her father is still here watching over her.”
Popular among his fellow firefighters, Gier was equally beloved by people in general. His mother said everyone seemed to know her son, regardless of where they were. “It was like he was the mayor,” she said. “We went to the graduation from Marine boot camp in Parris Island for my grandson Steve [Brode] and even though there were thousands of people there someone yelled, ‘Hi Roy!’ from the stands. I couldn’t believe it.”
Describing her son as a “goofball who loved to play jokes,” Linda said he was larger than life. “He was so handsome and such a good man,” she said. “I wish he had taken care of himself.”
Gier’s sense of humor and desire to help others exemplified him, said Anthony DeCarolis, the first assistant chief at OBFD. “He was a very active guy and really believed in what he was doing here. People getting along and working together was the big thing for him,” DeCarolis said. “He’s one of the people that if you needed something you call him and he’s there.”
OBFD Chief John Hambrook said Gier was a big presence and was kind. He knew what it was like to be a chief so he went out of his way to help Hambrook, who at 29 is an unusually young chief. Gier still remembered all of the challenges of being a chief, so he guided Hambrook. They spoke once a week, even when Gier was ill.
John Bruckner, an OBFD firefighter, remembered Gier when he was growing up. He lived across the street from Bruckner. It was Gier’s father, also an OBFD member, wh encouraged Bruckner to join the Fire Department.
“Roy was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back,” Bruckner said. “If you gave him a hard time and then asked him for something he’d still get it for you.”
Gier, who worked as a corrections officer at Rikers Island for three years, had retired in October 2019 from his position as a corporal in the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department. He had worked there for 33 years, Menke-Gier said.
“After he retired he was not right,” she said. “He had a defibrillator for his heart put in in July and had asthma.”
She had encouraged her husband to go to the doctor for a week before he died but said it was hard for him to accept people’s help. He was stubborn, she said, and would not go.
In addition to his wife, daughter and mother, Gier is survived by brother Jeffrey and sisters Jackie Brode and Linda Beth Gier.
As an ex-chief and life member, Gier was given the honor of having his funeral visiting hours at the firehouse. A Firematic service was performed in his honor before a hearse carried him to the Locust Valley Cemetery for interment on Wednesday.