Sometimes heroes disguise themselves as everyday people. Their extraordinary deeds become so routine that we fail to recognize the greatness of the person until they are gone. While Tommy Orlando's humility made him reticent to discuss his exploits it is with great pride that I relate but a few.
Up until his tragic and sudden death on Dec. 4, Tommy Orlando was a New York City firefighter. In this capacity he put his life on the line daily, but never more so than on September 11, 2001. On that day he raced up the staircases of the World Trade Center and saved the lives of countless people. Despite knowing full well the risks he faced, he only abandoned his rescue efforts when superiors ordered him out of the building, just prior to its collapse.
On Feb. 27, 2007, Elmont High School girl's basketball coach Gregg Petrocelli collapsed on the sideline during a game against Hicksville High School. Tommy's daughter Meghan played for the Hicksville team. Without hesitation, Tommy leapt from his seat and rushed to the fallen coach's side. Tommy used his EMT skills in a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save the coach's life.
Tommy was a longtime coach and board member of Holy Family CYO. He was also CYO's handyman. Tommy could often be found in Holy Family's gym changing light bulbs, repairing scoreboards or installing safety padding. Tommy's commitment and dedication to the children of Holy Family CYO were unmatched.
The ubiquitous Tommy O. also coached baseball, soccer and lacrosse in Hicksville. A father of a boy Tommy coached in baseball emailed me after his death. He wrote, "Tom was a man to whom our children gravitated, with his warmth, humor and compassion. The positive impact he had on my son was profound and everlasting." Tommy had that impact on so many of us.
His brother firefighters from Engine Company 65 referred to Tommy as "the mayor of 43rd Street." At home his neighbors referred to Tommy as the "mayor of 6th street." The title of "mayor" was bestowed upon Tommy because of his concern for and eagerness to help those he came in contact with.
Someone once wrote, "By hero, we tend to mean a heightened man who, more than other men, possesses qualities of courage, loyalty, resourcefulness, charisma, and above all, selflessness. He is an example of right behavior, the sort of man who risks his life to protect society's values, sacrificing his personal needs for those of the community." By this or any or standard Tommy was a hero.
On Jan. 28, Holy Family CYO will honor our hometown hero by sponsoring "A Tribute To Tommy O." night at Mulcahy's Pub in Wantagh, from 6-10 p.m. Tickets are $75 for food, open bar, tax and tip. There will be music, raffles and live and silent auctions. If you cannot attend please consider a donation. For ticket information or to make a donation call Ed Hebron at 761-6647 or Sue Matera at 735-5707.
Coach, Holy Family CYO