BAY SHORE, N.Y. -- Thousands gathered at a Long Island church Wednesday for a final farewell to one of New York's Bravest.
FDNY Firefighter Jesse Gerhard was only 33 when he died last week, a day after battling a fire in Far Rockaway.
CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff was at the funeral in Bay Shore, where he was remembered as a beloved young man gone too soon.
It was a somber roll down Main Street in Bay Shore for Gerhard's FDNY ladder truck and his volunteer Islip Fire Department engine, amid mournful drums and broken hearts.
Thousands joined in a solemn salute to the beloved firefighter, son, brother and uncle.
"We gather today to mourn this hero, young man, this child who committed and dedicated his life to the people of this city. We salute his commitment and dedication," said Mayor Eric Adams.
Gerhard battled a raging Queens fire last week. The next day,- a dangerous job underscored by his age, only 33.
He had only one dream in life, and was living his dream job.
"He loved it simply too much. It was his calling. He was part of a special breed of human being one that embraces public service even in the face of great peril," said acting FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.
His loss is a gut punch for his Far Rockaway firehouse, which he transformed with carpentry skills, and friendship.
"Jesse was the bridge between senior members and the junior members. Because of that, we have become a close and tight firehouse," said Michael Ormiston of the FDNY's Ladder 134.
"You were an incredible human being, Jesse, and anyone who has had the pleasure to meet you will say the same thing. I want one more day just to show you how we loved you," said Kristi Gerhard, Jesse's sister-in-law.
Young, brave, and gone for unknown medical reasons. The firefighters union is calling for enforced annual physicals.
"It's been so long since we have had medicals. There could be undetected, underlying conditions. Many members haven't had medicals for year," said Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
There was a show of support from a grateful public, fire departments from across the nation, including Baltimore, which just lost three of its bravest.
"We are standing here for them to lean on," said Bryan Chambers of the Baltimore City Fire Department. "We have people who serve overseas, and we have heroes who serve right here. And we appreciate what they do.
"Go in peace, until we meet again. Work hard, play hard, Gerhard," Ormiston said.
Tears flowed as his helmet was presented to Gerhard's little nephew.
The FDNY chaplain asked loved ones to honor him with their actions.
His organ donations will save 75 people - a hero to the finish.
"It's just such a tremendous loss," childhood friend Erik Matthews told CBS2's John Dias.
Matthews grew up with Gerhard, saying there was never a plan B. He always knew what he wanted out of life -- to help people.
"Ever since I knew him -- and we knew each other since we were basically toddlers -- he always loved firefighting. And you could tell just from day one, he wanted to be a firefighter," Matthews said.
"We've all put ourselves in perilous situations or made the effort to protect life and property in New York City and New York State, and circumstances are just different. So that's why we have a connection to Jesse and his family," another mourner added.
Many at Gerhard's funeral said no matter what, they will always be there for his family.
"You now have approximately 12,000 family members that are there for you. We'll paint your house, we'll cut your grass," Firefighter Jim Sorokac, a senior member of the ceremonial unit, said.
Gerhard was one of New York City's bravest, but he also saved lives as a.
"To do that job, you really just have to love people and just have an open heart, and really that was Jesse," said Chief Charles Chapman, with Bay Shore Bright Waters Rescue Ambulance. "He just made everybody happy, every time he would light up a room."
Chapman worked with him for three years in the beginning of his career.
"He was a salt of the earth type of guy. He really was a fantastic person," he said.
He also remembered Gerhard's woodworking skills, saying he learned on YouTube how to build a breakroom table for Station 10 in Manhattan and even signed the bottom of it.
"It's going to be there forever, it's part of him. He's a part of the station and he always will be," he said.
The family has asked that donations be made to Fired Up For A Cure in Gerhard's memory, a firefighter cancer awareness and prevention program.
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