Joseph DiBernardo Jr. dedicated his life to serving others, and his family hopes that a new sign bearing his name will continue to do that job.
DiBernardo, a volunteer firefighter with the Setauket Fire Department and a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York, died last year after a six-year battle with injuries sustained in the line of duty.
On Monday afternoon, one year to the week since DiBernardo’s death, a crowd gathered at the side of Nicholls Road in Setauket -- under the glare of flashing red lights from a Setauket Fire Department truck that DiBernardo helped design -- to dedicate a portion of the busy road to the fallen firefighter.
“Joey did so much for so many,” said DiBernardo’s mother, Barbara, at a gathering following the dedication. “Now, as people drive down that road, maybe they’ll smile when they think about him, or maybe people who don’t know him will Google him and find out what he did. He’ll be an inspiration forever.
“He’ll be around forever,” she continued, “and not just for me, but for everyone.”
DiBernardo had always wanted to be a firefighter, said his father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., 70, of Stony Brook.
“Every little boy wants to follow in their father’s footsteps,” said the retired FDNY chief, who used to bring his son to his station in the South Bronx.
He said DiBernardo co-founded the Brookhaven Technical Rescue Task Force and taught at the Suffolk County Fire Academy as well as at other training schools for firefighters around the world.
In 2005, in an incident known as “Black Sunday,” DiBernardo responded to a Bronx fire and was trapped with five other firefighters in a five-story building and forced to jump from the window. The impact of the fall broke every bone in his body below the waist, said DiBernardo Sr., and he spent three months in the hospital, partly in a coma and partly undergoing multiple surgeries to reconstruct his legs and feet. Two of the men fighting the blaze with DiBernardo died that day.
DiBernardo recovered, but struggled with physical pain and post-traumatic stress disorder for years, his father said.
Last year, at 40 years old, DiBernardo died of an accidental overdose of his pain medications, his father said.
DiBernardo Sr. said he’s proud of his son’s lifelong commitment, and happy he lived a fulfilling life.
“He loved it,” he said of the job. “That was the love of his life. He fulfilled his dream.”
Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn, who dedicated the portion of Nicholls Road/County Road 97 from Route 347 north to Fox Hunt Lane in Setauket, said she thought it was important to honor someone who gave so much to his community and others.
“County Road 97 runs right in front of the firehouse,” she said. “Everyone who passes by here every day will think of him and think of his sacrifice.”
Kevin Yoos, commissioner of the Setauket Fire District and a lieutenant for the FDNY, said he knew DiBernardo since he joined the department in 1989. He said DiBernardo was a good friend who pushed him to make a career out of firefighting and join the FDNY.
“He was a person that inspired other people to be the best they could be,” said Yoos, 42, of Stony Brook. “He had that knack.”
Yoos said DiBernardo’s service to the community was invaluable. In addition to countless hours and training others, DiBernardo also specially designed one of the department’s fire engines to respond to a variety of emergencies that most trucks are not equipped to do, he said.
DiBernardo Sr. said he hopes the sign bearing his son’s name will honor his legacy.
“I’m hoping it brings a smile to my face instead of a tear,” DiBernardo Sr. said. “But it definitely brings pride. It makes me very, very proud.”