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Queens Chronicle

Ozone Park’s 9/11 hero memorialized

Corner naming for Ground Zero fire chief who gave all for rescue

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Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2019 10:30 am

In the world of extraordinary men who performed extraordinary acts after 9/11, Ron Spadafora stood out.

An assistant fire chief, he was the top FDNY official in charge of safety operations at Ground Zero during the nine months of rescue and recovery that followed the attacks.

When he died last summer of an illness doubtlessly contracted from the dust and debris left behind when the towers came down, he was 63 years old and the No. 3 man in the FDNY.

He had worked for the department for 40 years.

“Firefighters die because they run into dangerous places,” wrote The New York Times the day after Spadafora’s funeral, “and they die because they stay.”

The newspaper of record gave the fire chief’s last rites the kind of coverage it usually reserves for heads of state or movie stars.

It almost had to. Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan was closed down in the middle of the day to accommodate the fire trucks that brought his body to St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the crowds that gathered on the street.

On Friday, at the corner in Ozone Park where Spadafora played as a kid next to his grandmother’s grocery store, the city is renaming 90th Street and Rockaway Boulevard “Chief Ronald Spadafora Way.”

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) will conduct the solemn ceremony.

“He was incredibly dedicated,” said Monica Kelly, a longtime friend who headed up the effort to get the corner he grew up on renamed in his honor.

“It wasn’t a job for him. It was his life.”

Spadafora, the third of four brothers and a sister, attended what was then called the School of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (since renamed Divine Mercy Catholic Academy) and Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, where he was a track star.

He rose through the ranks of the FDNY as the thinking man’s firefighter.

A lecturer on fire science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he earned two master’s degrees and wrote the standard textbook on firefighting in modern high rises.

“He never bragged or talked shop when he was with us,” said Freddy Spadafora, his oldest brother and a retired English teacher. “Honestly, we never knew he was that important until he got sick.”

The site of Friday’s ceremony is directly across Rockaway Boulevard from the grocery store that Spadafora’s grandmother, Anna, once owned and ran. It is now a beauty salon.

“She bought the empty lot next to the store on 90th Street so that we could have a place to play and she could keep an eye on us while she worked,” said Freddy.

“It’s fitting that this is happening in Ozone Park,” he said. “This is where he started.”

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