Family, friends and neighbors gathered together at Jonathan L. Ielpi Firefighters Park at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, for a memorial on the 16th anniversary of the September, 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
This annual commemoration is held by the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department to honor lifelong Great Neck resident Jonathan Lee Ielpi, who lost his life at just 29 years old while working as a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department.
Formerly known as Grace Avenue Park, Firefighters Park was dedicated to Ielpi.
Also remembered were Great Neck residents Frederick Kuo Jr., Richard Yun Choon Lee, Joshua Vitale and Andrew Stergiopoulos, who perished with the thousands of others on that tragic day.
Ielpi dreamed of becoming a firefighter from the time he was a young boy. He first realized his passion as a junior firefighter with the Great Neck Alert Fire Company and, at age 17, became a volunteer with the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company. During his 12 years as a Vigilant member, he rose to lieutenant, captain and eventually assistant chief.
Ielpi responded to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center with an elite engine company in Queens, Squad 288. His passion and dedication ultimately led to his death when he and six members of the squad were killed while helping others in the South Tower when it collapsed.
This past year, two Vigilant first responders lost their long battles with cancer related to their service on 9/11. Vigilant President Kenneth Bleck passed away at his Great Neck Estates home at 64 on Sept. 15, 2016, and Doris Groene, who was one of the first women to volunteer with the Vigilant Fire Company ambulance in 1986 and worked her way up to president, passed away on June 23 at her home in Mesquite, NV, at age 77.
While serving as first corporal, Bleck led two ambulances to Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, before being redirected to Chelsea Piers. The following day, he returned to Ground Zero where he not only served as an EMT but also helped dig through the rubble. It was there that he breathed the toxic waste that eventually lead to esophageal cancer, the most prevalent type associated with rescue crews following the World Trade Center attacks.
In his 24 years of membership, Bleck served as an officer for almost 20 years and had previously served as first corporal of EMS, trustee and chairman of the board of trustees.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Groene responded with mutual aid units sent from Great Neck to the World Trade Center and Chelsea Piers under the command of Bleck. At Ground Zero, she was also exposed to the toxins that are believed to have led to her cancer.
For 25 years, Groene was an anchor in the fire department, helping to create a program with the Merchant Marine Academy that brought cadets to the firehouse as ambulance volunteers. She herself volunteered on approximately 5,000 ambulance calls.
As the result of being a 9/11 first responder, Groene’s son Raymond Plakstis, former Village of Great Neck Deputy Mayor and a two-time chief of the Alert Fire Company, is currently battling stage IV stomach cancer, the third-leading form of cancer from 9/11.
On Monday evening, Temple Israel of Great Neck’s Men’s Club marked the tragedy with a community service at the Village of Saddle Rock’s 9/11 Memorial Bridge. Vigilant Chief Josh Forst, a member of Temple Israel, talked about the work his department performed on September 11 and remembered the department members they have lost due to 9/11-related illnesses.