Firefighter's Mission Lives On At Annual Toy Drive

NY 1 - December 16, 2009

by Amanda Farinacci

Santa Claus paid an early visit to some hospitalized children on Staten Island Tuesday as part of a holiday toy drive continued in honor of a fallen FDNY firefighter. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

There were plenty of presents and plenty of smiles for the children being treated at Staten Island University Hospital's pediatric unit Tuesday -- the result of a toy drive held in honor of Lieutenant Robert Ryan, who was killed in a fire last year.

"I've never heard of him before but it's very nice to see what he did for the hospital, for the children, and that the hospital continues to do it," said Staten Island University Hospital patient Vanny Mejia.

Ryan, a 17-year FDNY veteran, was badly burned in a fire in 2006. It took him a year to recover from his injuries, but retiring was never an option. He was treated at the Staten Island University Hospital Burn Center, and to thank the doctors who saved his life, he began a holiday toy drive three years ago for children being treated there.

Last year, after he died, firefighters at Engine 155 Ladder 78 decided to carry on in his honor.

On Tuesday, fire officials and Ryan's family handed out toys in honor of a man who they say liked to "pay it forward" -- to do good for others and say thank you for his many blessings. "Bobby's mission of paying it forward, you can see now, translated into a lot of the other firefighters and a lot of the family. So it's a successful mission," said Engine 155 Ladder 78 firefighter Richard Lapiedra.

Lieutenant Ryan's sister, Diane Spallanzani, and her three children organized three separate toy drives in his honor in New Jersey, where they live. She says she's not surprised to see the outpouring of support in her brother's memory.

"As many toys as there are here, that's how many people's lives he's touched. That's how I want to think about it," Spallanzani said.

So many toys were collected this year that the bulk of them will be given to children in the hospital during the holiday season. The rest will be distributed throughout the year.

"Once an idea has taken route, and other people realize that it's really a great idea, then something like this is possible. So this is great," said Dr. Mark Cooper of Staten Island University Hospital.

Firefighters also raised about $5,000 which was donated to the burn center in Lieutenant Ryan's honor.