The Town of Hempstead on Saturday dedicated two streets to Westbury firefighters who rushed to Manhattan to help victims of the 9/11 terror attacks and died years later of cancer from breathing in toxins at Ground Zero.
Fortunate JoAnn Schultz, the widow of Richard Dellacona, who was Westbury fire chief on Sept. 11, 2001, said being able to see a red “Richard Dellacona RD” sign from her front window every day is a “blessing.”
“I’m going to look at it and be proud,” she said after the dedication ceremony. “But, honestly, I’d trade it in a heartbeat to have my husband back. He was a proud, gentle, incredible man.”
Dellacona and the other firefighter honored on Saturday, Robert J. Langer, didn’t hesitate in hurrying to Ground Zero after hearing of the attacks and spending weeks there ingesting carcinogens while doing search and rescue work, family members said.
Dellacona died in 2012 at age 60 of leiomyosarcoma after 33 years with the department. Langer died last year of pancreatic cancer; he was 62.
Karen Langer said after a ceremony that featured a fire department color guard and speeches lauding her husband’s courage that the 27-year firefighter “would have been very embarrassed that this was all for him.”
“I wish he was here,” she said as she stood near the red sign with “9-11” written in white letters in the corner, the World Trade Center in the background. “But I know he has a front-row seat up there, definitely.”
Langer was a driver for Newsday for more than 30 years.
For Langer, the sign is bittersweet, for soon no Langer will live on Robert J. Langer Lane.
“None of us are going to be able to enjoy it,” she said.
Langer said that less than a year after her husband’s death, she was unable to continue making mortgage payments on the house where the couple raised their three children and where her husband grew up.
The $18,000-a-month cancer drugs had eaten up her husband’s savings and 401(k), despite financial assistance from the fire department. The home went into foreclosure. A short sale is now pending, said Langer, who lives with their daughter, Katherine, in the house.
The street dedications were the second and third in the past 13 months in honor of 9/11 firefighters who lived in the Salisbury neighborhood of Westbury. Blocks away, a street in September 2015 was named for Gerry Walsh, a retired NYFD firefighter who died in 2014 at age 58.
Town Supervisor Anthony Santino said the 9/11-related deaths of first responders years after the attacks reopened emotional wounds.
He said at Langer’s ceremony that the firefighter “is emblematic of the ongoing pain and anguish that has been inflicted upon our nation and families by the terrorists of 9/11.”