Outside of Ladder Company 135 in Glendale, a small memorial is growing to commemorate the life of Firefighter Matthew McDevitt.
At Our Lady of Grace Church in Howard Beach, the living memorial, all of the people touched by his life, stretched for more than a block for hours Friday at his wake. "You knew what kind of guy Matt was as soon as he walked through the firehouse doors. He had that larger-than-life personality, and that spirit and energy about him, that you just gravitate towards," said FDNY Captain Rich Blasi.
Energy that even cancer couldn't slow down. McDevitt battled NUT Midline Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that started in his nasal passages. He went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation throughout his two-year battle.
"He fought it with a smile on his face for years. He went through some of the hardest challenges a man could go through, some of the hardest hardships that someone could face. And not once did he falter or complain," said Blasi.
But it was battle he would not fight alone. His wife, Jackie, started a social media campaign, #McDevittStrong. McDevitt's treatments left him unable to work out, so they encouraged others to dedicate their workouts to him. It attracted attention from celebrities, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
"Matt, thank you for being an inspiration to me and everyone out there watching. Go, first responders," Johnson said in a video message to the firefighter.
McDevitt was a Queens-native. He grew up in Howard Beach and attended Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School, where he was a baseball star. He went on to pitch for the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in college.
"A good teammate, a real good player, and I think he always had his teammates first," said Nick Melito, McDevitt's baseball coach at McClancy.
McDevitt leaves behind two children. The youngest is just three months old. In an Instagram post, his wife Jackie promised: "They will always be reminded of the hero you are and the love you had for them. As for the awful cancer that took you from us, I will make it my life's mission to find a cure.”
McDevitt was 32 years old.
His funeral is set to be held Saturday at 10 a.m.
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald said in a statement, "Although Matt succumbed to this terrible disease, his service to this city, his dedication to his family, and the strength he showed while battling cancer will continue to inspire us all."