Fire Lieutenant's Legacy Of Joy

SI Advance - December 20, 2008

by JAMES QUEALLY

Mates, kin step in and deliver 700 toys to Island burn unit where FDNY hero was treated

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Fire Lt. Robert Ryan's goodness didn't die with him.

Yesterday, dozens of children in Staten Island University Hospital's burn unit were beneficiaries of the largess that he inspired.

They beamed as Santa distributed board games, race cars and Barbie dolls in the Jerome L. Finkelstein Regional Burn Center.

While the children cheered "Thank you, Santa," everyone else in the room knew the gifts hadn't come from the North Pole.

They were the fruit of the efforts of a man who died fighting a fire just days after organizing the third annual toy drive for the hospital.

Members of FDNY Engine Co. 155/Ladder Co. 78 in New Brighton and Lt. Ryan's family delivered more than 700 toys to the hospital, keeping alive both the toy drive Ryan started in 2006 and the memory of their fallen hero.

"This is a good day, a good memory," said Capt. Brian Gorman of Engine 155.

Ryan, a 20-year veteran of the FDNY, died when the roof of a burning New Brighton home collapsed on him in late November. Debris from the crumbling ceiling dislodged his breathing apparatus, causing Ryan to succumb to smoke inhalation.

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta expressed sorrow at the fact that he was leading yesterday's event instead of Ryan.

"Just a month ago, Lt. Ryan was busy with his preparations for the toy drive," Scoppetta said. "And it could not have occurred to anybody that he would not be standing up here today, doing what he loved to do."

Ryan decided to start the toy drive when he was a patient of the Finkelstein Burn Center in 2006. While fighting a blaze in Brooklyn, Ryan suffered severe burns to the back of his neck that threatened to cut short his career. But Ryan was able to return to the FDNY and found a way to honor the place that helped him return to his dream job.

Several members of Ryan's family turned out for the charity event, and while they were comforted by the strong show of support, they nevertheless acknowledged the bittersweet tone of the afternoon.

"This is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it's very upsetting," Ryan's sister, Diane Spallanzani, said. "Hopefully, something positive can come out of something negative."

"I would like (the kids) to know my father lived to help people," Ryan's 17-year-old son Christopher said. "If he got nothing in return for Christmas, he was happy as long as one of the kids was happy."

Hospital CEO Anthony C. Ferreri announced yesterday that four of the burn ward's rooms would be renamed in honor of four of the Island's fallen heroes -- Stephen Siller, Joseph Maffeo, Scott LaPiedra and Lt. "Bobby" Ryan.