Colleagues Trace the Void Left by a Firefighter

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


(Original Link)

Published: April 17, 2012

The black and purple bunting hung from Engine 237 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, ornamenting the sadness that surrounded the death of Lt. Richard A. Nappi. But in truth, the lieutenant’s reach far exceeded any one place, and with his passing, so did the circles of grief.

It hit at Engine 7 in Lower Manhattan and at Engine 302 in Ozone Park, Queens, where Lieutenant Nappi used to work; and it was felt on Long Island, where he lived with his wife and two children, volunteered with the Farmingville Fire Department and was a top instructor at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank.

Lieutenant Nappi died on Monday, apparently suffering a heart attack after leading some colleagues from Engine 237 on a hose line through the smoke-choked second floor of a burning warehouse in Brooklyn. Not long after his death was announced, Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano uttered words that at first struck a note of implausibility: The death of Lieutenant Nappi made for “a sad day for the Nappi family, but even a sadder day for New York City.”

On Tuesday, the more Lieutenant Nappi’s career, work ethic and other passions came into focus through the memories of his friends and colleagues, the more Commissioner Cassano’s words rang true.

Lieutenant Nappi, 47, was a firefighter who made it a mission to teach other firefighters, particularly those just getting started, how to stay safe and fight fires intelligently, said Lt. Joseph Sweeney, 46, who was a year behind Lieutenant Nappi at Smithtown East High School and wound up in the same rookie class of the city’s Fire Department.

“He was a selfless guy,” said Lieutenant Sweeney, who works at Engine 283 in Brooklyn. “He would not think twice about giving you the shirt off his back.”

He raced into the city on Sept. 11, 2001, even though he was off that day, his friends said. He had been honored years earlier, for pulling other firefighters out of danger in 1995, while working on a truck in the thick of the wild fires on eastern Long Island. Kenny Caron, a state firefighter at the Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., recalled how Lieutenant Nappi would race home from his city job, “run into his house and get a bite to eat” and show up for evening training sessions.

“He loved teaching the basics,” Firefighter Caron said. “Hose evolutions and how to search. His No. 1 priority was being safe.”

When he was not working, he was indulging in his passions: his family, Bruce Springsteen and the sports teams he followed.

If he was not doing something with his children, he might be found in Section 306 of Madison Square Garden, where he shared Rangers season tickets with friends for the past 18 years, or with friends and family at Citi Field for a Mets baseball game, or who knows where for a Springsteen show.

“He was a people person. He loved being around people. That is why he loved the firehouse,” said his brother, Bobby Nappi, a plumber who works for the New York City Housing Authority. Once, as “a fireman and a Rangers fan,” he was featured in an advertising campaign for the team that began shortly before 9/11, the brother added.

Then Mr. Nappi reflected on the New York Rangers’ Game 3 playoff win against Ottawa on Monday, a game his brother did not see. “He would have been happy last night,” he said.

Lt. Michael Vindigni, one of the friends who shared the Rangers tickets with Lieutenant Nappi, remembered how he last saw him, at a tailgating party on Saturday at the Nassau Coliseum, where hockey teams from the Fire and Police Departments had faced off. He was wearing a special red-tinged Rangers jersey, sharing “a couple of chuckles” with his friends and holding close his children, Catherine, 12, and Nicholas, 11.

William G. Walters, the chairman of the Silver Shield Foundation, a charity that aids fallen city emergency responders, said $20,000 had already been set aside for each of Lieutenant Nappi’s children for their educational needs, “when they need it.”

The Fire Department said a funeral Mass would be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

Tuesday, at the Engine 237 firehouse on Morgan Avenue, where Lieutenant Nappi had been based, people, including police officers from the 75th Precinct, wandered in to pay their respects.

Ramesh Persaud, 68, who lives near the firehouse, later shared his memories of Lieutenant Nappi.

“He would always say, ‘Listen to everything, never interrupt,’ ” Mr. Persaud said. “If they had a thousand of him, the city would be a great place.” The loss created a void. “It’s like I lost a part of my life,” he said.

Lieutenant Nappi was an organ donor, his brother said; it was a way that he could still help save lives.

Lieutenant Nappi’s wife, Mary Anne, was focused on another gift, Mr. Nappi said. She hopes, Mr. Nappi said, that her husband’s “blue eyes can help somebody in need.”

Ivan Pereira contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2012, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Colleagues Trace Void Left by a Firefighter.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at 7:45 pm and is filed under Feature, New York Times, Print Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: