Hundreds of people gathered at a Farmingdale church Tuesday to pay tribute to 9/11 first responder Robert E. Newman, a New York City firefighter who mentored many young colleagues he worked with over the decades on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Firefighters lined Conklin Avenue and saluted a FDNY truck that carried Newman’s body to St. Killian Roman Catholic Church, where mourners gathered for a funeral Mass.
Newman, a 39-year veteran of the fire department, died Feb. 9 of a 9/11-related lung cancer, according to his wife, Claire Newman. The Farmingdale retiree was 70.
“He was very open to sharing his knowledge of the area with all the young officers who needed that,” said Lt. Todd Heaney, of Staten Island, who worked with Newman for a decade. “He’s going to be missed.”
Newman was the latest firefighter to fall victim to 9/11 illnesses — 127 deaths as of September, when the FDNY releases its officials counts, according to Jim Long, spokesman for the New York City Fire Department.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Newman, assigned to Ladder 18, and fellow firefighters had rushed to the World Trade Center after the first plane struck one of the twin towers, his wife said. He took cover under a firetruck when the first tower fell, then ran out to search for survivors. Newman was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011.
In his eulogy, Battalion Chief John Rail remembered Newman as a man who could be serious and funny at the same time. Once, Rail recalled, he and Newman responded to a fire on the Lower East Side, and they watched a colleague, Gary Bulger, affectionately known as “cow head” due to substantial size of his head, climbed through a second-floor window.
“Suddenly, Bob grabbed me,” Rail recalled. “I said ‘What’s the matter, Bob’. He said, ‘John, do you think his head is going to fit through the window?’”
Mourners, including many firefighters, broke out in laughter.
Countless nights at the firehouse, Rail said, the men talked about various topics, including politics and sports, but the conversation always turned to Newman’s wife.
“He said how lucky he was to have a woman and a wife like Claire, and how good she was to him,” Rail said.
Among those who came to pay their respects was retired firefighter Hugh Mettham, 66, of Port Washington. Mettham, who worked with Newman for three decades, said he was a generous man who was always extended a helping hand.
“He would help people at all times, especially the young firemen. He trained a lot of people,” Mettham said. “He was a classic, old fireman who did a lot for the firehouse.”
A few weeks ago, Newman called Rail to share the bad news regarding his health. In their conversation, Rail said, Newman did not express anger, sadness or fear. Newman told his friend he had a happy life.
“He said he was sorry for nothing and grateful for everything,” Rail said.
Newman, who served in the Vietnam War, was buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.