Longtime Five Towns resident William Edward Lahey, the patriarch of the Lahey family, several of whom have served as firefighters in the Hewlett Fire Department over three generations, died on Jan. 9 at his home in Woodmere after what was described as a prolonged illness. He was 87.
Born March 28, 1934, in the Bronx to George and Helen Lahey, William, who was known as Bill, spent the majority of his life in the Five Towns. After joining the Hewlett F.D. in August 1963, he quickly ascended the ranks, serving as secretary, lieutenant and then captain of Hook & Ladder Co 3. He became 3rd assistant chief in April 1969, and chief of department in April 1974. His tenure as chief lasted until 1976.
Lahey also served as a commissioner of the Hewlett Bay Fire District for 16 years, from 1978 to 1993. He was district chairman five times.
The Hewlett department posted a tribute to Lahey on its Facebook page on Jan. 9. “Affectionately known as ‘Big Bill’ by department members, he was respected by the entire Hewlett Fire Department,” the post read. “Until his passing, he was looked upon for advice, guidance and exemplified leadership.”
Bill’s son, Steven, joined the department as well, followed by his grandsons, Ethan and Stephen, all of whom are ex-chiefs. “No way,” Bill said in 2014 when asked if he thought so many of his family members would get involved in fighting fires. “I started that first year, was very active and it started to bloom. The kids started, got involved and it kept progressing.”
Steven, who became a Hewlett firefighter in 1976 and was a truck lieutenant and captain, president, deputy chief and chief, said that his father was always a family-minded man. “Throughout his life, he always put family and community first,” he said. “Over the years, he has instilled those values in all of his loved ones.”
Ethan Lahey, a former chief who joined the department in 1998, said that his grandfather was always in the firehouse, even in recent years. “Up until when the firehouse shut down because of Covid in March, he was there every day,” Ethan said. “He was still lending a helping hand, overseeing the younger generations just to ensure that they were doing things properly.”
Ethan said that he spent much time in the firehouse as a kid because of his grandfather. “For my brothers and I, we grew up in the firehouse watching my father and grandfather working on the truck was great,” he said. “I remember as a kid, sitting on the front of the fire truck and eating breakfast.”
When his grandfather wasn’t in the firehouse, Ethan said, he liked to travel and spend time with his family. “My grandparents would travel the world and the country,” he said. “We always had family dinners together, and he made sure he would always come to everyone’s sporting events. He didn’t miss anything.”
Predeceased by his wife of 49 years, Barbara, in 2005, and their daughter Mary Ruth Goolsby, Lahey is survived by two sisters, Grace Karcz and Ruth Araujo; his children, Susan and Steven; seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services were held at the Perry Funeral Home in Lynbrook on Jan. 11 and 12. He was interred at the Greenfield Cemetery in Hempstead.
“He was a larger-than-life individual,” Ethan said. “He started the trend for our family by bringing us into the fire service. We wouldn’t have become what we are without him.”