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Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo Jr. dies

Firefighters from the Setauket Fire Department pass Rescue

Firefighters from the Setauket Fire Department pass Rescue 6 as they attend the wake for FDNY Lt. Joseph DiBernardo, who was also a member of the Setauket Fire Department, at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket. DiBernardo's coat and boots sit on the front of Rescue 6, which he helped redesign and modify to accommodate modern rescue equipment. (Nov. 26, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

Hundreds, most in FDNY dress uniforms, lined up Saturday to pay respects to Joseph DiBernardo Jr., who was badly injured in a 2005 Bronx blaze that killed two other FDNY firefighters.

DiBernardo, 40, who never fully recovered from his injuries, was found dead at his Miller Place home Wednesday. The cause hasn't been determined.

As his son lay in his coffin, dressed in his blue lieutenant's uniform Saturday, Joseph DiBernardo Sr. recalled him growing up playing with a toy fire engine. "I'd take him to the fire station. He grew up in a firehouse," said his father, a retired FDNY division commander.

"He fulfilled his passion by becoming a firefighter," DiBernardo Sr. said.

In the Bronx fire, DiBernardo Jr. and other firefighters searched for people they thought were trapped in a four-story building. As the flames neared them, six firefighters jumped or fell trying to escape. Two died and four, including DiBernardo, were badly hurt.

"He couldn't fight fires anymore," DiBernardo Sr. said. "And that just broke his heart."

DiBernardo was credited with staying behind to help another firefighter, Jeff Cool, try to climb down the building using a rope. After Cool fell and was injured, DiBernardo lowered himself about 10 feet before the rope broke, sending him falling.

He told Newsday months later that he stayed behind because he was a bachelor and had no children while Cool had a wife and children.

"When I saw Jeff hanging out of the top of the air conditioner, all I thought about was Jill and the boys," DiBernardo said.

Doctors had to put five metal plates in one foot, four in the other and a total of 60 metal screws in his body. He was in pain for the rest of his life. Three months after the fire, DiBernardo was promoted to lieutenant.

DiBernardo, who attended Ward Melville High School, began as a volunteer firefighter in the Setauket Fire Department before joining the FDNY in 1995, developing a reputation for helping train fellow firefighters, said his friend Kevin Yoos, an FDNY lieutenant.

DiBernardo spent time in recent years where he was happiest. He volunteered at the Setauket Fire Department, sometimes driving fire trucks and teaching other firefighters.

DiBernardo is survived by his father and mother, Barbara, both of Stony Brook; his sister Carolyn, of Holbrook; and a niece.

Visiting continues Sunday at Bryant Funeral Home, 411 Old Town Rd., East Setauket, from 2 to 3 p.m., and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Setauket. Interment follows at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.

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