Black Sunday Firefighter Remembered

One of four FDNY firefighters who survived a jump from a blazing Bronx building in 2005 was found dead in his Long Island home Tuesday morning.

Lt. Joseph DiBernardo, 40, was seriously injured in the 2005 fall, and eventually was forced to retire from the department.

Two of his colleagues, Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran, died after leaping from the fourth floor of the apartment building to escape the flames.

Later that same day, Jan. 23, 2005, another firefighter, Richie Sclafani, was killed in a fire in Brooklyn. It will be forever known as “Black Sunday.”

As the blaze roared around them, DiBernardo could have gone out the window first. But, he held the rescue rope for Firefighter Jeff Cool­­­­ because he had a wife and two children. Both were injured, but they credit the device with saving their lives.

“That’s just the way Joey was…” recalled Harvey Eisner, editor-in-chief of Firehouse Magazine.

Eisner said in conversations with DiBernardo over the years, he knew he was still suffering. “The FDNY was his life…”

In 2006, DiBernardo and the other survivors chose Firehouse Expo in Baltimore to tell the story of that snowy morning that turned deadly.

As Eisner recalled, more than 2,000 people attended the three-hour presentation, that was originally scheduled for 90 minutes.

“There was a standing room crowd, and I don’t think anyone walked out. It was just an amazing presentation. It was the first time they had talked about what happened.”

Eisner said he visited DiBernardo while he was hospitalized and recovering from the fall. “There would be other people in the room, and his face would light up when I walked in. He was happy to see me.”

The firefighter returned the favor, and visited Eisner in the hospital in San Diego. And, the visit was much appreciated.

“I saw him in June and told him he had an open invitation to speak or conduct training,” he said, adding that when DiBernardo conducted technical rescue classes at Firehouse events, they were packed. “He really did know his stuff.”

Eisner said he was sad to hear the news about DiBernardo on Tuesday. “This is a tremendous loss. It’s devastating for everyone.”

It seems that DiBernardo really never recovered from the events on Black Sunday.

Visitation will be held from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Bryant Funeral Home in Setauket, N.Y. A fire department service will be held at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Setauket.