From: News and Views | City Beat |
More than a year after Lt. Joseph Cavalieri and Firefighters Christopher Bopp and James Bohan lost their lives trying to save others, their spirit is very much alive at the Canarsie firehouse where they worked.
As family, friends and more than 100 guests, including Mayor Giuliani and Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, union officials and firefighters from all over the metropolitan area looked on yesterday, three memorial plaques were unveiled inside the firehouse on Rockaway Parkway.
To the members of Ladder Co. 170 and Engine Co. 257 who share the same quarters, Cavalieri, Bopp and Bohan meant so much that they built a special wall of honor for the plaques.
Somehow, even that impressive construction of hand-polished cedar didn't seem enough. So now, at the center of the wall beneath the three plaques, hangs a large portrait of Cavaleri, Bopp and Bohan.
The three were killed on Dec. 18, 1998, while searching for possible victims in a 10th-floor fire at a senior citizens' residence opposite Starrett City.
Traditionally, a memorial ceremony honoring firefighters is held on the anniversary of the fire. Because of a tragic fire in Worcester, Mass., in which six firefighters lost their lives in early last month, the firehouse ceremony was put off until yesterday.
"We had a memorial Mass on the anniversary," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Kevin Gallagher. "We always listen to the families. Because of Worcester and the holidays, everyone thought it best to wait."
In the portrait, the three firefighters are bathed in bright golden light, with broad smiles underneath their fire helmets.
"The guys in the house worked really hard in putting up this wall," said Firefighter Ed Purpona, a five-year veteran of Ladder Co. 170. "There are some guys who put a lot of hours into that wall."
To everyone in the firehouse and everyone who visits, it was worth the effort.
"This wall and the portrait are in a spot that no one who comes in here will ever forget them," said Firefighter Steve Mormino of Ladder Co. 170.
"There was a lot of love that went into that wall. It came from the heart."
He added that firefighters kicked in the money for the painting.
"The artist worked from photographs, but when we look at it, it will help us think of the good times," he said.
The Rev. John Delendick, the Fire Department's chaplain, spoke of those good memories during a Mass in the firehouse prior to the unveiling.
Delendick noted that the families and colleagues have attended several ceremonies in memory of the three men.
"This is the place where they lived, where they stood in the kitchen and where they laughed," Delendick said.
He added that ceremonies and the plaque are supposed to trigger memories.
"We do this not just because they died, but because they lived," the priest said.
"We honor these people because of the way they lived. There are generous people willing to put their lives on the line for others. These plaques say there's a future. Not just a past."