Deutsche firefighters remembered at memorial ceremony
By Julie Shapiro
Hundreds gathered at the Engine 24/Ladder 5 firehouse Monday morning to remember firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino Jr., one year after they were killed at the former Deutsche Bank building.
Plaques honoring the firefighters will hang on the Soho firehouse’s walls, alongside those commemorating the men the firehouse lost on 9/11 and in the Watts St. fire in 1994.
“This house has seen more than its fair share of tragedy,” Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta told the crowd that filled the firehouse.
The grieving family members sat on rows of folding chairs, one side for the Graffagninos and the other for the Beddias, as though at a wedding. But what joined these families was the deadly fire Aug. 18, 2007 at 130 Liberty St., where blocked-off stairwells and a broken standpipe trapped firefighters in the building without water. The building was damaged and contaminated with asbestos on 9/11 and was being demolished at the time of the fire.
Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
A few in the crowd thought Mayor Bloomberg briefly dozed off during the speeches before the plaques were dedicated, but a mayoral spokesperson said his eyes were merely closed.
After a series of speeches by Scoppetta, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and other F.D.N.Y. and union officials Monday morning, everyone rose for the unveiling of Graffagnino and Beddia’s plaques.
The firefighters saluted, and a trumpet started playing taps. Camera flashes flickered over the face of Linda Graffagnino, Joey’s widow, as she pressed a crumpled tissue to her mouth. Bagpipes played a mournful “Amazing Grace,” the space between the notes punctuated by the click of dozens of camera shutters.
Linda Graffagnino speaks to her toddler son and 5-year-old daughter frequently about their father, showing them pictures and telling stories, she said after the ceremony. It’s hard, she said, to make her son understand what it all means.
She added that she tries not to dwell on her anger over what happened to her husband. But she is holding on to her sense of justice.
“Whoever is responsible deserves what he gets,” she said.
The district attorney is investigating criminal charges against 130 Liberty St.’s contractors and several city and state government agencies, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which owns the building.
“I can tell you in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe anybody deliberately did anything to make that building less safe,” Bloomberg told reporters later on Monday. “Were they derelict in their duty? Only time will tell. In retrospect, obviously one could have done more.”
One more thing that Bloomberg could have done was to pay attention to the speeches Monday morning in Graffagnino and Beddia’s honor. A female friend of Graffagnino’s family nudged this reporter during the speeches and gestured toward Bloomberg, who sat facing the rows of family members.
“He’s sleeping!” the woman whispered indignantly.
And, indeed, Bloomberg did appear to have briefly dozed off. His chin was angled toward his chest, listing to the side. His eyes were closed. The friend, who did not want to give her name, said Bloomberg had been nodding off throughout the ceremony. A freelance photographer also noticed Bloomberg’s catnap, which she said lasted for about 15 seconds. A round of applause soon startled him to his feet.
Jason Post, a Bloomberg spokesperson, said Bloomberg was not asleep.
“It’s a little strange,” the Graffagnino friend later said of the ceremony, “what with city being at such fault for what happened…. And then to have the mayor sleeping during it, that’s…”
“Quite,” she said.