An FDNY firefighter from Massapequa with more than 30 years on the job has died of COVID-19, the department’s first active member to succumb to the deadly virus, officials said Sunday.
Joseph Ferrugia, 61, was twice cited for bravery and responded to Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FDNY said. Officials said 12 others in the department have also died of COVID-19, including emergency medical technicians, fire protection inspectors, auto mechanics and those in fiscal services and supervisory roles.
"This horrific illness has taken far too many lives, and now it has killed a man who bravely served New Yorkers for three decades," Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said Sunday in a statement. "He ran toward danger his entire career, searching for those trapped by flames and doing all he could to save them."
Ferrugia died early Sunday morning at Plainview Hospital after being hospitalized on Jan. 20, said his sister, Kathy Mangialardi.
"He would do anything for anybody," said Mangialardi, who lives next door to her brother in Massapequa. "Everybody loved to be around him. He was the person you always wanted by your side."
Gary Spero, who went to elementary school with Ferrugia, said his childhood friend was a competitive and outgoing man who loved to joke, laugh and socialize.
"He’s one of those people who drew you in," said Spero, 61, of Massapequa. "He had this unique way of making you feel like you were very important to him. It was never just a superficial conversation with Joey. He always got you to be real and talk about what’s going on in your life."
Ferrugia was born Sept. 27, 1959, in Flushing, Queens, to Angelo Ferrugia and Jacqueline Mott. His family moved to Massapequa when he was a child. He was divorced and a father of three adult children.
He joined the FDNY in October 1990 and was assigned to Ladder Company 142, which services Woodhaven and Ozone Park in Queens, the department said.
Later, Ferrugia was assigned to the Rebreather Unit, which is part of the FDNY’s special operations command. There, Ferrugia trained firefighters and responded to emergency incidents underground and in tunnels. His unit shared a Manhattan firehouse with Capt. Andrew Serra’s Ladder 20 crew.
"He was the friendliest guy and always had a smile on his face no matter what was going on in his life," said Serra, who worked with Ferrugia for nine years and described him as a "teddy bear."
Serra said Ferrugia would often stay after meals to sit at the table in the firehouse kitchen and talk to younger firefighters about their life.
"He’s very patient. … He would let the guy talk and would make people feel at home," Serra said. "He was like an uncle to everybody here."
Others who knew Ferrugia earlier in his life had long noticed his patience and willingness to mentor others. He had been a high school wrestler and became an assistant coach to Jim Nordland, at the time the wrestling coach at then-Berner High School in the 1980s.
"He had such a great spirit and he was always there for all of us," said Nordland, 68, of Sayville. "He gave it his all all the time. He never said no to the kids. They counted on him. They depended on him. He was a coach, mentor and friend to the kids. They simply adored him."
Viewing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Massapequa Funeral Home’s South Chapel, Mangialardi said. The funeral is at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Massapequa.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story implied that others in the FDNY who died of COVID-19 were also firefighters. They worked in the department as emergency medical technicians, fire protection inspectors, auto mechanics and in fiscal services and supervisory roles.