Third member of Westbury Fire Department succumbs to 9/11 illness
As many have pointed out, not all whose lives ended in the terror attacks at the World Trade Center died on September 11, 2001. Two years ago, at the Westbury Fire Department’s ceremony to mark the 18th anniversary of that fateful day, JoAnn Dellacona told Anton Media Group, “For the people that died of 9/11 illnesses, such as my husband, they actually started to die on that day,”
Ex-Chief Richard Dellacona was the first from the department to pass from the effects of the environment on the rubble at Ground Zero. Robert Langer was the second. Last month, Ray “Butchie” Romano become the department’s third member to be officially listed on the lengthy roll of those who succumbed to the toxic air at the World Trade Center site, A 50-year member of the department, Romano, 74, will have his name inscribed on the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial Wall at Empire State Plaza in Albany, joining those of Dellacona and Langer.
All three men were represented by their families at the department’s 9/11 ceremony on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. On hand, in addition to JoAnn Dellacona, were Karen and Gregory Langer and Leona and Joseph Romano. All received bouquets and were accompanied by department members to a walkway adjoining the monument, where paving bricks were etched with their loved one’s name.
Her husband, Leona related, volunteered with the Westbury contingent to be part of the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. He told her the air was bad, she said to Anton Media Group, but the federal government assured the public that it was safe to breathe. Now we know that that wasn’t the case.
She recalled that Guy spent two or three days on the pile, digging with his hands.
“He said it was terrible, and did not wear a mask,” Leona said.
Joseph remembered his father as being “very determined.”
“He always liked to joke around and laugh. He was so good to everybody,” Leona said with a sob.
“Guy was funny. He always brought humor into the crowd he was around,” said fellow firefighter and Village of Westbury Trustee Vinny Abbatiello. “He was a lovable guy.”
Village Trustee Steve Corte, who served on the WFD with Romano, commented, “Butchie was one of the friendliest guys. He always had a smile on his face. He was one of those guys you wanted to be around.”
He talked about the time when their sons played Little League and one day they went down to the field and it was waterlogged. Romano got into his truck and said, “I’ll be right back,” and came back with about half dozen bags of drying agent and got to work preparing the field.
“He just jumped right into these type of situations,” Corte said. “He was always that type of guy in the fire department as well. [His death] was a shame. It really was.”
Romano was a pump operator for the Carle Place Water District.
On his Donohue-Cecere Funeral Home tribute page, district Superintendent and fellow WFD firefighter Tim Daly wrote, “Lee and Joey my condolences, Butch was great person, coworker, and friend. He could always make you laugh, and will surely be missed.”
Department Chaplain Jon Wicks Chaplain welcomed the assembled, including a good part of the department members in their ceremonial uniforms.
“The devastating actions of a few so greatly impacted our lives,” Wicks said. “However, our American spirit continues to shine brightly each and every time.”
The chaplain noted that 2,976 people from 93 nations lost their lives at the World Trade Center—included department family members—not to mention 343 city firefighters as well as hundreds from 9/11 illnesses.
“It’s imperative that we continue to commemorate 9/11 by reflecting on and honoring those lost that day and those we continue to lose,” Wicks said.
He asked God to remember “those from our own department who are battling illnesses as a result of the rescue and recovery mission at Ground Zero. Help us bring your comfort and peace to all. Oh God of Mercy, remember the pain we felt and continue to feel. We recall the bereavement and bitterness of the aftermath, including the bereavement of the three families here today from our own department whose loved ones gave their lives. To remember that you are a God of redemption and restoration and your love and peace endure forever.”
Mayor Peter Cavallaro represented the village, along with trustees Abbatiello, Corte and Bill Wise.
He went back 20 years, telling of hearing the news and watching the news at his office.
“It’s very hard to process [what happened], even today,” he said, continuing, “But I like to focus today on life. It’s easy to focus on the tragedy, the horror and the crimes that were committed that morning.”
He watched the coverage of the 9/11 ceremony New York City that morning, and was struck that many of the people that were coming up to read the names of the fallen hadn’t even been alive at the time of 9/11.
The children and grandchildren of the victims that spoke filled him with hope, as did the selfless acts of the firefighters who charged into the burning towers to save lives and wound up sacrificing their own.
“That’s what we do here this morning, we thank the first responders for their service and we mourn the loss of the people that we lost. We mourn the people who didn’t die that morning but have died in the subsequent years, including the three that we laid flowers for this morning,” Cavallaro said. “Twenty years is a long time, but as was said earlier, we have to always do this [ceremony], we have to do this perpetually.”
He concluded, “Every time I drive by and I see this piece of metal [at the memorial] it gives me chills. It’s a daily reminder and I’m so happy that we are able to do this so that people in our community can always be reminded. But let’s focus on life and let’s focus on the good thing that those people who perished 20 years ago this morning wanted for their families and wanted for our country.”
Department Chief Ken Gass Jr. thanked his members for showing up in large numbers.
He told the crowd, “Take a couple of moments out of your day at some point [to] stop and think about what happened 20 years ago today. Maybe you can remember someone close to you who is no longer here. I’m sure that we have someone that we know dearly who didn’t make it home that day. So think about that person and have a good thought for their family.”
In his closing prayer, Wicks repeated the words inscribed on the memorial plaque: “All gave some. Some gave all. We will never forget.”
Gass told Anton Media Group that his father Ken Sr. was in a department rescue truck near Ground Zero the night of the attacks.
Dozens of his members, he said, went to help with recovery efforts, as well as helping to cover some city firehouses that were short staffed.
Regarding Guy Romano, Gass said with a touch of sadness that he had been an active department member throughout his illness.