Since his death in November, the name Joseph DiBernardo Jr. – "Joey D" – is one that lives in the minds and hearts of his family and friends in the Setauket and Miller Place communities. Now, it's a name that will also be memorialized on the FDNY's "Wall of Honor," a place of honor for New York City firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
The FDNY announced Monday that Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano made the decision to add DiBernardo's name to the Wall of Honor based on an in-depth review of DiBernardo's medical history.
"As a result of this extensive review of the evidence, I find a compelling case to include Joseph’s name on our Wall of Honor and to approve a line-of-duty plaque for his firehouse, Rescue 3," Cassano said in a statement.
Joey D, a Setauket Fire Department volunteer who joined the FDNY in 1995, sustained critical injuries from the Black Sunday fire in January of 2005, a fire which killed two firefighters and critically injured him and three more.
Joey D, who also spent months working on Ground Zero cleanup efforts following 9/11, has been credited with helping another firefighter safely escape the Black Sunday fire using an escape rope. But when he tried to escape himself, the rope broke and he fell 40 feet to the ground. He broke nearly every bone below his waist, needing reconstructive surgery, screws, and plates.
He retired from the FDNY in 2006. In November, at his home in Miller Place from an accidental overdose of antidepressants and painkillers, the use of which has been attributed to the Black Sunday fire and his injuries. Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Joseph DiBernardo Sr., Joey D's father, appealed to Cassano in May to have his son's name added as a line-of-duty death alongside the other firefighters who died as a result of the Black Sunday fire.
"I’m thrilled that they finally made this decision to recognize him," said Bill Rohr, a longtime friend and colleague in the Setauket Fire Department. "It hopefully gives his family some closure. He deserved it."
Over the past few months, a Change.org petition to have Joey D's name added to the Wall of Honor – started by a California firefighter who had never met him – gathered 8,421 signatures.
His name will appear on the Wall of Honor alongside 1,142 other firefighters who died in the line of duty. A plaque in his honor will be installed at Rescue 3 in the Bronx, his company at the FDNY, in November.
His mother, Barbara DiBernardo, said they received a phone call Monday from the commissioner himself. Had the call not come, she said, they would have kept petitioning for it to happen. It was important to her, she said, that Joey D would be remembered not as someone who merely died from an accidental drug overdose, but rather as someone whose heroism led to his untimely death.
"Happy is not the word, but it’s comforting," Barbara DiBernardo said in an interview Monday. "We can’t ask for anything more than that. I think we’re all going to sleep well tonight, and he’ll rest peacefully."
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