A veteran Fire Department lieutenant killed as he battled a Staten Island blaze could easily have retired two years ago after being badly burned - but instead fought his way back to active duty to continue doing the job he loved.
Lt. Robert Ryan Jr., 46, refused to stay out of commission after sustaining severe burns to his neck in October 2006 when melted plastic ate through his protective gear. Ryan died early yesterday morning when the burning ceiling of a New Brighton home collapsed on him.
"He was all patched up from the burns at that time, but he wasn't going to retire, no way," recalled fire union vice president Jim McGowan. "I don't think it was even a question for him."
"His attitude was that he was one of the guys, and he was coming back," McGowan said. "You could tell, talking to him, that after the injury he was coming back."
The FDNY said the 17-year veteran's original injury came while he was subbing for another firefighter, working at a house other than his regular one, and he was burned while stretching a hose into a three-story building on 73rd Street in Brooklyn.
Rather than run from the building to treat his injuries, Ryan had his colleagues turn the high-powered hose on his neck and then continued to battle the blaze.
But almost a year to the day, he was back on active duty.
Ryan easily could have hung up his helmet and earned a line-of-duty injury pension for three-quarters pay, said Capt. Thomas Henri, Ryan's superior at Staten Island's Engine Co. 155.
"The whole back of his head, all down the back of his neck . . . they were third-degree burns," said Henri, his face still red from fighting the fire that claimed his friend.
"He wasn't gonna retire for a long, long time. He was 46. He loved the Fire Department."
Ryan was a father of four who ran a house-painting business on the side, yet still found time to help child burn victims.
The ceiling collapse at 39 Van Buren St. yesterday ripped Ryan's helmet and mask from his head and knocked him to the floor unconscious, fire officials said.
The four other firefighters with him on the second floor of the house rushed him out to the street, where it was quickly determined that he was in cardiac arrest.
Funeral arrangements are:
Harmon Funeral Home
571 Forest Avenue, Staten Island, NY
Monday, November 24 - 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Tuesday, November 25 - 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
Funeral and Procession
Sacred Heart Church
981 Castleton Ave, Staten Island, NY
Wednesday, November 26, 11 a.m.