Baldwinite Michael Dolan was almost always tinkering with something, his Baldwin Fire Department colleagues said. An engineer by trade, he would spend hours at Hose Company Four’s Grand Avenue headquarters, inventing things.
“There was a party where he was trying to invent something that could make and serve mixed drinks,” Chief Peter Ortiz said. “He was a little bit of a scientist.”
Dolan’s ability to master machines was surpassed only by the way he connected with everyone he met, and his desire to help strangers. “He would always bring everyone together and make sure they were having a good time,” Brien Cummings, the department’s third deputy chief, said. “He was also just very generous with his time.”
Dolan, a lifelong Baldwinite, died on March 7 of lung cancer. He was 29. Flags at the Baldwin Fire Department were lowered to half-staff, and funeral bunting was hung in his honor.
“He was just a great guy,” Ortiz said. “He was an active firefighter who was always around and trying to do what he could to help.”
Dolan previously told the Herald that he joined the Fire Department to help his hometown. “I wanted to give back to the community I’ve lived in my entire life,” he said. He added that fighting fires offered a little more excitement than his job at Core SWX, a Plainview-based company that produces camera equipment. “It keeps you a little more in the real world,” he said.
His service inspired his mother, Bobbi Dolan, to join the First Aid Company. “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.”
Born on Sept. 9, 1989, Dolan attended Brookside Elementary School before moving on to Baldwin’s middle and high schools. At the high school he joined the Robotics Club, and worked on the Theater Club’s stage crew. He graduated from Stony Brook University in 2014, according to his Facebook page, with a degree in engineering. He had also taken courses in theater arts.
He joined the Fire Department in September 2011, and spent six years with Hose Company Four. Last year he told the Herald that one of his favorite memories of his time with the department was of when he 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 recalled. “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.”
When not on call, Dolan would work on his machines, and he had other hobbies as well. Cummings recalled that Dolan often had a camera in hand. “He would always be looking for the best shot,” Cummings said, “whether that meant getting on the ground or climbing a tree for the right angle.” Ortiz and Dolan often talked about cars. “I remember he had some Volvos he was working on,” Ortiz said.
In July 2017, Dolan started having breathing problems, 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,” he said last year. “I started searching it on WebMD, like everyone does.” And while the treatments left his body weak, Dolan’s spirits never faltered; he would show up at parties with a wide smile, cracking jokes and talking to everyone.
Baldwin rallied to support Dolan after his diagnosis, donating more than $30,000 to a GoFundMe page to support his treatments. Last June, close to 100 people attended a stand-up comedy event hosted by the Fire Department and the Laughter Saves Lives Foundation, a traveling troupe of standup comedians that raises money for first responders in need.
Laughter Saves Lives founder John Larocchia, a retired New York City firefighter, said he was devastated to hear of Dolan’s death.
“He was a great kid,” Larocchia, of Bellmore, said. “I had him on my weekly show a couple of months ago, and even with everything he was going through . . . he kept it moving along. The guys were busting his chops and he just ate it up.” Larocchia also helped the family by paying some of their bills, including a car payment.
Dolan’s wake and a memorial service were held March 10 at Donza Funeral Home in East Rockaway, followed by a private cremation.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked for people to make donations to charities in Michael’s name.
Besides his mother, he is survived by his father, Michael, his sister, Jillian, his grandparents and several cousins.