A retired fire lieutenant from City Island who dedicated his life to fighting the good fight lost his final battle to a 9/11-related illness.
Lt. Mark McKay, 48, died on April 4 from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a cancer rarely found in adults.
“You can’t believe it really happened,” said McKay’s mother, Dolores. “It’s like a nightmare.”
Long lines of firefighters stretched along E. Tremont Avenue in Throggs Neck April 11 as McKay’s flag-draped casket was borne on a firetruck to the First Lutheran Church, the place where he was confirmed and married.
Stationed at Ladder 45 on the island, McKay was deeply impacted by 9/11, and did his part as one of New York’s Bravest, devoting long hours at The Pile through mid-December of that year.
“He felt a lot of remorse that so many have died,” said Dolores.
Tragedy hit again for McKay when his close friend, Firefighter John Bellew perished during 2005s “Black Sunday” in the Bronx. Five other firefighters were forced to jump from an illegal apartment in the Mount Hope section that day.
In 2009, McKay was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer that originated from his hip. After several chemotherapy sessions, the cancer went into remission, but then returned to his lungs.
“He never gave up,” said Dolores.
In spite of his pain, McKay marched in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Throggs Neck instead of riding in an open car like some had requested. He managed to walk all the way down to the 9/11 monument by Engine 72, and say a prayer.
McKay was eulogized at his funeral by longtime friend, FDNY Chief John Sullivan of Battalion 27 in Mount Hope.
“He told me, ‘I prayed to the brothers to save me a place at the table,’” said Sullivan who always suspected McKay’s disease was 9/11-related, a recent trend in the deaths of FDNY members who gave long hours during the rescue operation.
He died at Calvary Hospital, a request made by McKay who did not want to die at the new house in City Island he and his wife Belinda purchased.
“He wanted Belinda and the kids to have only happy memories in that house,” said Sullivan.
McKay was born in Country Club and joined the FDNY ranks in 1985, serving in the Bronx, Queens and upper Manhattan’s Ladder 45 where he was promoted to lieutenant.
From the time he was a child, the life of a firefighter appealed to McKay, said his mother.
He learned to respect it through his father, a fellow firefighter.
“We have pictures of him dressed up in his father’s fire gear,” said Dolores.
McKay will be cremated and his ashes scattered along the waters of City Island where he enjoyed fishing.
His last wishes included having his organs donated.
McKay is also survived by his daughter Melissa and son Mark.
Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.