Vigilant Engine & Hook & Ladder Co., Inc., President Kenneth Bleck, 64, passed away peacefully at his home in Great Neck Estates on Sept. 15, after a long battle with cancer.
On Sept. 11, 2001, while serving as first corporal, Bleck led two ambulances to Ground Zero before eventually being redirected to Chelsea Piers. The following day he returned briefly to Great Neck before going back to Ground Zero where not only did he serve as an EMT but also helped dig through the rubble. It is there he breathed the toxic waste that would eventually lead to esophageal cancer, the most prevalent cancer associated with rescue crews following the World Trade Center attacks.
“For the entire length of my membership, Kenny Bleck was a constant at the Vigilant Fire Company,” said Chief Joshua Forst. “He was such a dominant presence that I can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like without him.” This feeling was shared by the entire Vigilant membership who voted him an honorary chief, one of the company’s highest honors, at its August company meeting.
“Not only was Kenny a Vigilant but he was also my business partner and one of my closest friends,” said chairman David Weiss. “He gave his life serving his community and I will miss him dearly.”
In his 24 years of membership, Bleck served as an officer for almost 20 years, proving his dedication. He had previously served as first corporal of EMS, trustee and chairman of the board of trustees. He was proud that as chairman he worked hard with the elected officials to keep the budget down while working internally to keep costs down.
“It is a shame to see such a great leader pass away,” said Great Neck Estates Mayor David Fox. “As mayor, I knew Ken as a resident, a business owner and as a member of the Vigilant Fire Company. He was a tremendous ally and someone who always had the residents’ best interests at heart.”
Bleck grew up in East Meadow, graduated from Old Dominion University and moved to Great Neck in 1977. He owned Nu-Clear Drive-in Cleaners on Middle Neck Road, where he treated his employees as family.
“I have lost someone who was not only my boss but was also like a father to me,” wrote employee Letty Flores in a tribute—and it was a sentiment shared by many employees.
His life was celebrated by the company on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. at Vigilant Fire Company headquarters and by family at Gutterman’s in Woodbury on Monday, Sept. 19.
Bleck is survived by his wife, Linda, their two children, Jamie (Matt) of Laurel, MD, and Carrie of Long Beach, and three grandchildren. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in his name to either the Vigilant Fire Company or to Hadassah.