Joseph DiBernardo, FDNY Firefighter Who Survived Black Sunday Fall in Fatal Bronx Fire, Dies at Age 40

NY Daily News - November 23, 2011

by John Doyle NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Bravest were trapped in illegally divided apartment

A former city firefighter, who survived a 40-foot plunge to escape a Bronx blaze that killed two firefighters in 2005, died Wednesday at his Long Island home .

Retired FDNY Lt. Joseph DiBernardo, 40, was among six firefighters trapped by illegal partitions inside a fourth-floor apartment in Morris Heights on Jan. 23, 2005, a day that became known in the department as "Black Sunday."

that " it was like running into a freight train of fire."

The six firefighters desperately tried to escape the blaze. Despite the confusion, DiBernardo heroically held a safety rope as a fellow firefighter tried to rappel down the building. sing his grip ten feet down and plunging into a courtyard below.

DiBernardo then tied the rope to a window guard but the rope gave way about 10-feet down, sending him plunging nearly four stories into a basement-level courtyard below.

DiBernardo, who landed feet first shattered every bone from his waist down. Two other firefighters were critically injured when they also jumped.

Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46 and Firefighter John Bellew, 37, leaped to their deaths.

Just three hours later, another firefighter died in a Brooklyn Firefighter Richard Sclafani, 37, was killed in a two alarm blaze in East New York fire, making the day the deadliest for the FDNY since 9/11.

DiBernardo was promoted to lieutenant but his injuries continued to plague him and he was forced to retire from the department.

"He never fully recovered from 9/11 and since 'Black Sunday' he has been in terrible pain and agony," said his father Joseph DiBernardo, a retired deputy chief who served 35 years in the department. "After all these years, he has been in physical pain and the mental pain. His whole life had been the FDNY ."

A department spokesman said it's unclear if his job-related injuries contributed to his death.

An autopsy will determine the cause of death.