His family and friends will testify: it's unquestionably true that Joseph DiBernardo Jr., was devoted to his work as a FDNY Rescue 3 firefighter and Setauket Fire Department volunteer.
According to his father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., it's also unquestionably true that his son "Joey D", who lived in Miller Place, died as an eventual result of the injuries he sustained from the Black Sunday fire in January of 2005. On that day, he plunged 40 feet from a burning building – a fire which killed two firefighters and critically injured DiBernardo Jr. and three more.
The names of the two who died that day already are up on the Wall of Heroes at the headquarters of the Fire Department of New York, which honors those who have died in the line of duty.
Since Joey D in his Miller Place home, his family has been trying to get his name added to the Wall of Heroes.
According to DiBernardo Sr., there are 46 other cases in which the honor has been given despite the time that has passed since the tragedy. The Daily News reported Tuesday that the cause of death was ruled as an accidental overdose of antidepressants and pain medication – both of which DiBernardo Sr. said his son needed as a direct result of the tragic events of Black Sunday.
"He belongs over there with the heroes. My son's whole life was the fire department. ... Once he joins the other two guys who died that day up on the wall, I believe he’ll rest in peace," said DiBernardo, himself a retired FDNY assistant deputy chief.
Now, an online petition at Change.org has been circulating through social media circles, and could help the DiBernardo family achieve that goal.
It was started by a firefighter in Clovis, Calif., whom the DiBernardo family does not know.
"I thought it was simply amazing that a stranger in California, a brother firefighter, started this up on his own after reading the stories," DiBernardo Sr. said. "The fire service is a brotherhood and this is a prime example of it."
As of Thursday night, more than 1,700 people – hailing from all over the country – have signed the petition. "The response has been overwhelming," DiBernardo Sr. said. "Our family is uplifted by it."
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Petitions launched via Change.org have yielded success in some areas. Most notably, Molly Katchpole, a 23-year-old college graduate working as a nanny in Washington D.C., started a Change.org petition asking Bank of America to roll back the $5 fee it wanted to charge customers who use debit cards. The bank eventually backed off.
The hard part, some say, will be getting the FDNY to grant the family's request.
According to a report that aired on WPIX on Monday, the FDNY said in a statement: "There must be an application to the Board of Trustees of the Fire Department Pension Fund (represented by both city and union representatives) in order for anyone to be approved for a line of duty death designation. ... If such an application is formally made, it will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees for consideration."
Joey D – who also spent months working on Ground Zero cleanup efforts following 9/11 – has been credited with helping another firefighter to safety using an escape rope. But when he tried to escape himself, the rope broke and he fell 40 feet to the ground. He broke nearly every bone below his waist, needing reconstructive surgery, screws, and plates, according to a close friend, Setauket third assistant chief Bill Rohr. Rohr said before the Black Sunday fire, "he was as healthy as the rest of us are," but afterward was in a constant battle to balance his medications.
Like Joey D's family, Rohr has helped spread the word about the online petition via Facebook, hoping that the FDNY will understand the family's case.
"Anyone you talk to says he deserves it," Rohr said. "A fitting tribute to someone who gave service to New York City, to Setauket, to those he taught."