Matt McDevitt’s toddler son, James, saluted the TV set on Long Island as his FDNY firefighter dad was being memorialized via live video.
James’ mom — McDevitt’s widow, Jackie, 32 — had been anticipating the kind of ceremony that the FDNY had held 112 previous times. But for the 113th, at which McDevitt — who died Oct. 29 at 31 of a rare cancer, was among 15 being remembered — the ceremony had to be virtual, yet another relocated rite to halt the coronavirus pandemic.
"I was disappointed it was virtual. I was really looking forward to attending the ceremony," Jackie McDevitt of Lynbrook she said in an interview Friday about Wednesday’s event. "But watching my son salute the television during taps and watching how seriously the Turtles took this ceremony, even remotely, left me speechless."
The Turtles is the nickname for McDevitt’s firehouse, Ladder 135, Engine 286, in Glendale, Queens.
The FDNY commissioner, Dan Nigro, noted in his remarks the nearly unprecedented circumstances under which this year’s memorial ceremony was being held — not at the monument to fallen firefighters built with donations more than a century ago, but via video.
"Normally, I would be addressing all of you from the steps of our monument on Riverside Drive, and there would be thousands of our active and retired members in formation as a sign of profound respect and love for our fallen members," Nigro said.
"Year after year on this day, our FDNY family gathers in extraordinary numbers on Riverside Drive to honor their friends and loved ones we have lost," Nigro said. "As we all know, gathering in extraordinary numbers is not something any of us can or should be doing these days."
McDevitt’s wasn’t a line-of-duty death but was honored at the ceremony because he died while an active member of the department, according to FDNY spokesman Jim Long.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking on a video shot at City Hall, said, "all of you joined a family dedicated to protecting all the other families of this city, and you know that with every call, you’re ready to run towards the danger, and we honor you for that."
"In the dark of night, when FDNY trucks are called upon, the people of New York City know one thing for sure: help is on the way, and this year we knew that more than ever. I wish we could all gather together in person to honor and remember our brave heroes," de Blasio said, adding: "New York's Bravest is more than just a nickname; it's a mission statement, it's a statement of pride and purpose. And those that join the ranks know that it's not just a job; it's a calling."
The family is preparing to honor the one-year anniversary of the death of Matt McDevitt, whose daughter, Mila, 1, was born three months before his passing.
She sat on her mom’s lap during the ceremony.
"Matt was the best human that I know. He was a warrior and a hero for sure. His passing was not just a loss for our friends and family but the entire world," Jackie said. "Huge loss."
McDevitt’s brother, Garrett, 38, an FDNY lieutenant, said he will always remember his brother’s smile and laugh, qualities he maintained "no matter what … even when he was sick."