Late Firefighter Rushed to NYC to Help His 'Brothers'

Daytona Beach News Journal Online - September 11, 2009


PORT ORANGE -- A battered firefighter's helmet rests on the mantel, between a family portrait and silver urn.

Every mark, every dent is a battle scar, a cumulative history of a New York City firefighter's 13-year career on the front lines.

Anthony Incarbone retired from the department in 1994, after damaging a knee in a fall down a flight of stairs. He later moved to Port Orange, where he enjoyed a quieter life with his wife and four children, who are now in their 20s.

Until Sept. 11, 2001.

While at work as an installer for a cable TV company, Incarbone heard about the attack on the World Trade Center.

As he watched the flaming Twin Towers, his thoughts turned to his "brothers" in lower Manhattan, firefighters scrambling to save lives in the chaos and ruins.

Feelings of loyalty filled him.

He wanted to be there. He needed to be there.

Incarbone asked his boss for time off and was turned down. So he quit, grabbed his old firefighter's gear and drove straight through the night to New York City.

"He felt like if he would have still been on the job, he would have been there," recalled his wife, Liz, a registered nurse. "He knew they would be short on men. He told me he was leaving and didn't know when he'd get back."

Incarbone spent the next two months digging through the rubble at ground zero as a volunteer, returning home only after the rescue mission had moved well into the recovery stage.

"He lost over 60 friends," Liz said, sorting through a stack of mass cards from firefighter funerals her husband attended.

Over the years, Incarbone couldn't watch the 9/11 anniversary retrospectives on TV. They were too painful, too overwhelming.

"He saw the debris and bodies there," she said. "The devastation."

Incarbone became an instructor at Bikram Yoga Studio in New Smyrna Beach, an engaging, supportive teacher who Karen Leone credits with helping turn her life around after taking her first class in September 2007.

"I went back for three weeks every day," she recalled. "He said encouraging stuff that I needed to hear. I'd always leave in a good mood."

A few months later, Incarbone was in a motorcycle accident. During his recovery, he started feeling worse, rather than better.

Pain flared in his shoulder blade. X-rays showed nothing, his wife said.

Eventually, Incarbone couldn't move his neck.

He was diagnosed in June 2008 with advanced-stage lung cancer that spread to his bones and brain.

Incarbone died in January at age 51. His widow blames the prolonged exposure to toxic dust at ground zero.

"So many people have gotten sick who worked out there, and the state of New York is not recognizing it," she said. "He exercised, ate well and never smoked. The man was never sick, ever."

When Incarbone died, so did his disability pension checks from New York City.

The family is struggling to pay bills and hold onto their house, which is in foreclosure.

"Right now, all four kids have moved back to help," she said. "We're trying to keep the house until we can sell it."

In the meantime, Karen Leone and yoga studio owner Traci Armstrong are coming to the rescue.

Leone has organized a benefit in the firefighter's name at Bikram Yoga's Port Orange location that's set for Friday, Sept.ember 18th -- which would have been Incarbone's 52nd birthday.

About 100 items will be auctioned, including autographed merchandise from many celebrities, including football great Larry Csonka, golfer Phil Mickelson and singers Rob Thomas and Carly Simon.

Businesses, politicians and everyday people also have contributed gift packages.

Bidding begins Monday and a yoga marathon will start at 4 p.m. next Saturday. Donations will be requested.

Leone said all the money will go to the family of her friend and "9/11 hero."

"The local response has been tremendous," Leone said. "This is Anthony's birthday and our way to say goodbye."

Liz Incarbone said she wanted the event to be both a remembrance and celebration of her husband.

"I'm hoping there's not much crying," she said. "I want it to be a happy day."

That's because her husband told her, even as death grew closer, he did what a New York City firefighter was supposed to do.

He answered the call on Sept, 11, 2001.

"I asked him, 'Would you have gone if you knew this would happen?' And he said yes," she said. "He told me, 'They are my brothers. They were my brothers.' "