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Firefighter's legacy will save lives, fellow rescuers say

Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Joe P. DiBernardo and

Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Joe P. DiBernardo and his wife Barbara, of Stony Brook, pose for a portrait with an illustration of their son, Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Jr., at the Setauket Fire Department Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

As Joe DiBernardo, a retired New York City deputy fire chief, prepared to bury his son -- a firefighter critically injured in a dark day for the department -- he thought about his legacy.

Joseph P. DiBernardo and five fellow firefighters leaped four stories from a burning Bronx tenement on Jan. 23, 2005, without safety ropes. Two died. Another died while searching the basement of a Brooklyn home. The FDNY mandated the ropes after the day, known as "Black Sunday."

DiBernardo of Miller Place died six years later at age 40 of an apparent overdose from medication he used after his career-ending injuries from the leap.

"He went on a campaign to make sure that every firefighter had the ropes," said his father. "When he passed away, we figured that's what his legacy would be."

In 2013, DiBernardo's family and friends started the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The nonprofit organizes firefighter-safety training and raises money to purchase the safety ropes for volunteer departments that can't afford to buy such systems.

Saturday, the group will award its first recipient, the Mount Hope Fire Company from upstate Mount Hope with 14 safety ropes and training -- valued at $14,000 -- at its seminar at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge. Mount Hope will get 14 more ropes next year.

"It makes the department safer," said Wayne Melton, 41, a Mount Hope assistant chief and a New York City firefighter.

In an email, Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesman, said the system "is a critical piece of safety equipment."

As a child, DiBernardo used to record radio calls when riding with his father, replaying them in his imaginary fireman's world.

In 1995, that world became real when he joined the FDNY.

In 2005, DiBernardo, with Rescue 3 in the Bronx, and other firefighters jumped from the Bronx building after getting trapped in a maze of illegal walls. The building owner and manager were later convicted of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment in 2009.

A year later, a Supreme Court judge dismissed the convictions. The Bronx district attorney's office lost its appeal of the decision in September 2011.

A month later, on Nov. 17, 2011, Carolyn Ingoglia, 40, saw her brother at her daughter Gabriella's 1-year birthday party.

Five days later, DiBernardo, who was Gabriella's godfather, was dead.

"He lived in pain for a few years and one morning, he didn't wake up," said his father, a Stony Brook resident.

At his funeral, colleagues approached his father about creating a legacy.

The foundation came shortly after a year of planning. His father, mother Barbara and Ingoglia are on the 10-member board.

"With this foundation, his name won't be forgotten," his father said.

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