FDNY Chief Ronald Spadafora, who supervised rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, died Saturday of a World Trade Center-related illness, according to the FDNY. He was 63.
The 40-year veteran is the 178th member of the FDNY to die of 9/11-related illnesses, the department said.
The former Levittown resident, who moved to New York City in 2004, was the World Trade Center chief of safety for the entire 9/11 recovery operation. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2015.
“He was very dedicated to his job,” said Frederick Spadafora, of Huntington, the chief’s brother. “He could have retired many years ago, but he didn’t.”
Born in Ozone Park, Spadafora attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, where his brother said he was a track star. Spadafora later graduated from John Jay College with a bachelor’s degree in fire science, and he returned there as an adjunct lecturer for the Fire Science Undergraduate Program. He earned another bachelor’s degree from Queens College and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus.
Along with supervising Ground Zero recovery efforts, Spadafora oversaw the logistics section for the FDNY during the 2003 New York City blackout and worked on recovery efforts during the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and superstorm Sandy.
Spadafora participated in the Working On Fire Programme for several years. The South African program funds weekslong trips to rural areas of Johannesburg to train residents on fire prevention and suppression skills.
“Ron Spadafora was a consummate professional fire chief who bravely served our city for 40 years, and toiled for months at the World Trade Center site after September 11th, leading the Department’s rescue and recovery efforts,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement.
“In his extraordinary career, he fought fires in all five boroughs, improved training for every FDNY member, and as the Chief of Fire Prevention for the last eight years, Ron’s dedication and leadership led to greater safety and protection for millions of New Yorkers.”
On Saturday, the Baltimore City Fire Department honored the firefighter with a transport from Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Spadafora was being treated. The FDNY then transported his body to Franklin E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan, where it will remain until funeral services later this week.
In addition to his brother Frederick, Spadafora is survived by his longtime domestic partner, Rhonda Roland Shearer, who was also a 9/11 volunteer, and siblings Nicholas Spadafora of Manhattan, Sharon Dionisio of West Islip and Robert Spadafora of California.
Spadafora’s neighbor and close friend Amy Tan, 66, author of the “Joy Luck Club,” will speak at the funeral services. “He was so gentle and so generously helpful in so many ways,” said Tan of Spadafora, who had written a book on environmentally friendly firefighting techniques. “The one thing I learned in reading this book is that I wouldn’t be smart enough to be a firefighter.”
The wake will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday at Franklin E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan. Instead of a coffin, Spadafora’s remains will be wrapped in an American flag and laid in an aluminum stokes basket, “just like his fallen brothers of 9/11,” said Roland Shearer.
“Seeing his body wrapped in the flag allows people to experience what we who worked at Ground Zero witnessed,” she said.
CORRECTION: Ronald Spadafora is survived by his longtime domestic partner, Rhonda Roland Shearer. The information was incorrect in a previous version of this article.