During the first harrowing weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in March, lifelong Valley Streamer and Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician Mike Field told fellow volunteers that he believed he would be among those who contracted the virus.
“We told him to watch himself,” said Tracey Calhoun, a fellow longtime Rescue Company No. 1 EMT and friend, and encouraged Field to let others turn out the ambulance. “You’d say, ‘Mike, take a break,’” she recalled.
His answer, though, was always the same. “If I’m around, I’m going to do it,” he’d said.
Fatefully, Field’s prediction came true. After transporting a Covid-19 patient in late March, he came down with the disease himself. Roughly a week later, on April 8, he died of complications of the virus. He was 59.
For his bravery and selfless sacrifice in the face of the unknown, the Herald is proud to name Field our 2020 Person of the Year.
As far as the recognition is concerned, there’s no doubt, his family and closest friends said, that he would hate it.
“He’s cursing us out right now,” his middle son, Richard, 23, said.
“He never wanted any pats on the back, no ‘good job’s. He didn’t care about any of that,” said Jason Croak, a close family friend and fellow firefighter who was chief of the department at the time of Field’s death.
Croak posthumously promoted Field to the rank of chief.
The son of Polish immigrants, Field dedicated some of his teenage years and nearly his entire adult life to the fire service, joining the Valley Stream Junior Fire Department, then known as Explorers, while he was at Central High School, and later becoming a volunteer in the VSFD, where he served for 33 years.
He was also a career EMT for the New York City Fire Department, and a first responder during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although he was too young at the time to remember, Richard Field said he believed the trauma his father suffered from witnessing so much death and destruction likely led to him to retire from the FDNY a few years later. He went on to work in the Village of Valley Stream sign shop.
Richard said he was unsure why, precisely, his father joined the fire service, but he and his two brothers followed their father’s lead in becoming FDNY EMTs, with the youngest, Jason, currently on the waitlist. Seeing firsthand what the job is, Richard said, he understands its appeal.
“We grew up around that firehouse, around that brotherhood and sisterhood, and that’s what drew me to be there and be a first responder in general,” he said. “It’s about family and helping others; it’s about putting yourself out there.”
Field was well known for putting others before himself. “He was a guy who’d always go above and beyond for everybody,” Croak said. “Whatever you asked, even if he didn’t want to, he’d do it.”
“He was just a guy who was always there,” Calhoun said. “He was always there to lend a helping hand. If you needed something from Mike, he’d give you the shirt off his back.”
“You could always count on Mike to do anything,” said Mike Seltzer, another Rescue No. 1 EMT. The two had known each other for more than 30 years.
Field was a steady presence in the firehouse, with Calhoun recalling how, in 2011, Field helped her deliver a baby in the department ambulance — a first for the VSFD. While she had delivered a baby once before as an FDNY EMT, it was his 38th delivery. For the younger volunteers, Field was a calm mentor, Richard said, turning mistakes into learning opportunities.
“He had a lot of knowledge you couldn’t get anywhere else,” Seltzer said. “He taught me a lot of things, and led met to a career in EMS.”
Field was also active with the Valley Stream Junior Firefighters. “That was his pride and joy,” Calhoun said of his preparing prospective firefighters to join the department. “He loved being around all the kids and making sure they were taken care of,” Croak said.
He was also involved the Cub Scouts and Little League, and each year was involved in organizing the Nassau County Fire Riders’ Christmas in June toy drive for patients at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens.
In addition to the lives that he touched and helped save, Field left another mark on Valley Stream. On Oct. 3, roughly six months after his death, the Corona Avenue span over the Southern State Parkway, near Exit 15, was named in his honor. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky authored the law to rename the bridge.
“Mike epitomized heroism,” Kaminsky said, “and earlier this year, I was proud to unveil the newly designated Michael Field Memorial Bridge on the Southern State Parkway to ensure that future generations derive inspiration from Mike’s life of service and sacrifice.”
Field also loved practical jokes, and was known for his deep, infectious belly laugh. “He’d know how to make a room laugh,” Calhoun said. “He brought laughter and smiles to everybody.”
“He always joked,” Croak said. “He never really took life seriously. You knew if you were with him, you’d be having a good time and laughing.”
“He was a character, but he was my character,” Seltzer said.
At home, the jokes took the form of an egg broken over one of his son’s heads, or a frightful scare, which Richard said he and his brothers often paid back.
“He scared very easily,” his son joked.
While Field approached much of life lightheartedly, Richard said, he took being a father very seriously. “When it came to school and home life, he didn’t mess around,” he said. “If you screwed up, you were grounded.”
He also loved animals, and always had a number of dogs. His son recounted when his father rescued nearly a dozen cats that had escaped a fire. Field even mused about owning a pet goat, and his dream, if he ever were to leave Valley Stream, was to own a farm with animals, Richard said.
But he never did leave Valley Stream, and it was the neighborhood and its residents that kept him here, his loved ones said. “He loved helping the community, he loved serving the community, and he loved protecting the community, which is what the fire service is all about,” Calhoun said.
Richard noted a common refrain of his father about his hometown that proved prophetic. Of Valley Stream, Field said, “I was born and raised here, and I’m going to die here.”