Hero Firefighter Honored One Year After His Death In New Brighton Blaze

SI Advance - November 24, 2009

by Tom Wrobleski

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Fire Lt. Robert J. Ryan, who died battling a blaze in New Brighton a year ago, was remembered as a hero today as a plaque was dedicated in his honor at his home firehouse.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recalled that he'd met Ryan after Ryan suffered burns fighting a blaze in Brooklyn in 2006. Bloomberg said he was impressed with Ryan's desire to get back on the job as soon as possible.

"You couldn't really find a better advertisement for the FDNY than Bobby Ryan," Bloomberg told Ryan's family members, brother firefighters, department brass and elected officials at Engine Co. 155/Ladder 78, New Brighton. "Honest, dedicated, hard-working."

Robert Ryan died while fighting an attic fire in New Brighton last year.

Ryan, 47, died of smoke inhalation when debris from a collapsing ceiling knocked off his breathing gear as he fought a blaze at 39 Van Buren St. last Nov. 23.

With Ryan's wife, children and mother sitting nearby, outgoing FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta said the ceremony was part of the "solemn promise" made by the department to the family members of those who perish in the line of duty.

"Should the worst happen ... you will not be forgotten," said Scopetta, who said he was attending his final plaque dedication service before leaving the department at the end of the year. "The family members will be protected, given comfort, and honored in their grief."

Ryan's sister, Diane Spallanzani, said that after a year of grieving, it was "time to pick ourselves up."

"It was a difficult year for all of us," she said, "made more difficult by the heroic way Bobby lost his life."

However, she said, "To get through the days, I carry Bobby's goodness in my heart."

Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano, an Islander, said that the Ryan family's strength had been "unbelievable" over the last 12 months. He said that the plaque would ensure that Ryan would serve "as a role model for all firefighters who pass through these doors."

Engine 155 Firefighter Edward Puccio said that Ryan was a mentor to young firefighters, and a "tremendous officer and leader" who kept the firehouse running smoothly and still relished the hands-on job of battling blazes.

"How I wish we were still responding to fires together," he said.