Retired FDNY firefighter Joseph DiBernardo announces a Thursday fundraiser for a foundation...

Retired FDNY firefighter Joseph DiBernardo announces a Thursday fundraiser for a foundation that buys safety gear in memory of his son, Lt. Joseph DiBernardo, an FDNY firefighter who died as a result of a fall while battling a deadly fire in the Bronx.  Credit: Alejandra Villa Loarca

At 76, Joseph DiBernardo admits he’s "worn out." But having seen his firefighter son die of injuries from a blaze, he said he would never stop advocating for the safety of those who risk their lives battling fires.

On Wednesday, DiBernardo announced what he  expects will be the largest fundraiser for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation,  a charity he created five years ago to honor his son.

In the event Thursday, which will help purchase safety gear for firefighters, eight teams of firefighters  will compete in a volleyball tournament at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook  in Centereach.

In creating the charity, DiBernardo, himself a former FDNY fire chief, said he sacrificed retirement for what  has become a full-time job. He travels across the country, speaking on firefighter safety. He spends hours every day on the phone and his computer, pulling in donations and awarding grants to fire departments across the nation.

“I’m worn out from all this,” he said. But he’s proud that the charity has raised about $250,000 over the years.

“I will never rest,” he added. “I will always look in the mirror and know I did my best for my son.”

During Wednesday's news conference outside the Centereach hotel, DiBernardo said his son's death could have been prevented, had the FDNY not removed personal safety ropes from the gear that firefighters carried into burning buildings.

His voice broke a bit as he described his son's bravery the day of the fire. 

The 2005 fire had trapped six firefighters in a blazing apartment of a Bronx tenement, he said. Surrounded by fire, with no way out, they had to jump for their lives.

Another firefighter, Jeff Cool, had his own personal rope but no place to tie it off. So he offered to toss it to DiBernardo. 

DiBernardo yelled to him, "I’m single, you have a wife and kids . . . throw me the rope and I’ll lower you.”

Cool tossed him the end of the rope and swung down. As DiBernardo started to descend, the room exploded in fire, the rope broke and he fell four stories, his father said.

Two firefighters died that day and four others suffered life-changing injuries. The day earned the infamous moniker "Black Sunday." DiBernardo's fall broke nearly every bone below his waist and shattered his heels and feet. He died six years later on Nov. 22, 2011, at age 40.

Because of that fire, the FDNY reissued ropes to all its members, said the senior DiBernardo, who lives in Miller Place. His son also lived in Miller Place. Most Long Island departments also provide the special rope kits, he said.

Since forming the charity in 2013, DiBernardo has focused on providing firefighters with special kits that include a rope, hook and harness so they can descend safely from a window. Each costs $850 to $1,000, and DiBernardo has provided a few hundred to firefighters across the country.

“I don’t ever want to hear about another firefighter having to choose between burning to death or jumping out a window,” he said. “I don’t want to see another father lose a son, another wife lose a husband, another child lose a father.”

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