Ronald Spadafora, 63, led 9/11 rescue / recovery

Ronald Spadafora was the New York Fire Department’s chief of fire prevention.

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | No. 62 Greene St. in Soho is decked with the ceremonial bunting and other memorial displays paying homage to one of the bravest of the Fire Department of New York, Assistant Chief Ronald Spadafora, who died Sat., June 23, at age 63. Spadafora was a 40-year Fire Department veteran. As N.Y.F.D. chief of safety, he oversaw rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

In December 2015, Spadafora, who was exposed to the toxins at “The Pit” at Ground Zero, got blood cancer: He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He is the 178th member of the Fire Department —and its highest-ranking member— to die of a World Trade-related 9/11 illness. Spadafora was being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore when he died; an escorted procession returned his body to New York.

Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel held the wake; his firefighter “bunker gear” jacket and pants were positioned near his body.

Following a morning Mass at St. Thomas Church, at E. 53rd St. and Fifth Ave., on Fri., June 29, a police escort preceded the funeral procession — a fire engine carrying his remains on top in an aluminum Stokes basket (no casket) wrapped in an American flag — so placed “like his brothers killed on Sept. 11,” his domestic partner, Rhonda Roland Shearer, said.

“Seeing his body wrapped in the flag allows people to experience what we witnessed from Ground Zero,” she said.

Roland Shearer met the assistant chief — who was referred to by most as “chief” — as a very involved and committed volunteer during the 9/11 recovery.

The funeral procession drove past their Greene St. home, his two beloved dogs, Samson and Skye, waiting outside on its way to the cemetery.

The assistant chief grew up in Ozone Park. A track star at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, he earned a B.A. at John Jay College in fire science, later earning a second B.A. at Queens College, and an M.S. in criminal justice at Long Island University. He returned to John Jay as an adjunct lecturer in fire science, as well as teaching in the emergency-and-disaster-management program at Metropolitan College of New York, in Lower Manhattan. He wrote for the Fire Department’s training publication; in a recent article, he urged firefighters to wear their bunker gear, and to recognize exposure to toxins, to wash and shower.

The assistant chief’s brother, Frederick, lives on Long Island and noted his sibling’s commitment and how he could have retired years ago.

F.D.N.Y. Commissioner Daniel Nigro said of Spadafora in a statement, “In his extraordinary career, he fought fires in all five boroughs, improved training for every F.D.N.Y. member, and as the chief of fire prevention for the last eight years, Ron’s dedication and leadership led to greater safety and protection for millions of New Yorkers.”

“He was the nicest of guys,” said Steve Prescod, a local home maintenance fellow who has known Spadafora for more than 10 years. Prescod visited him in the hospital and waited for hours for the procession to pass on Spring St.

“He introduced me to the owner of two restaurants that I’ve done work for,” Prescod said.

Those local business owners echoed Prescod’s heartfelt sentiments.

“I knew the chief for 27 years, even before he moved to the neighborhood,” said Paolo Alavian, owner of Altesi restaurant, which has been at Spring and Sullivan Sts. for 24 years.

“I saw the chief every morning walking his two dogs or relaxing on the park bench [on the Spring St. side of Vesuvio Playground],” he said. “After 9/11, he was always concerned about the health of the business.”

Inside the restaurant, Alavian pointed to a table near the wall in the front room: “That was his table,” he said. “He came twice a week before he got sick.”

Alavian said you would never meet a more peaceful man.

“I once told him, ‘You must have the patience of a saint,’” he recalled.

Alavian spoke with the assistant chief just three weeks before he died regarding a fire-safety code detail, not realizing how sick he was.

“He was very loyal,” he said. “There are not easy words to describe him.”

Bunting, a banner and bouquets festooned the outside of Ronald Spadafora’s Greene St. home. He was a Soho resident for the last 14 years. Photo by Tequila Minsky

Spadafora and Roland Shearer were also regulars at Bistro Les Amis, at Thompson and Spring Sts.

“This is a good man. He loved working to make people and the city safe,” said the restaurant’s owner, Roy Ibrahim, of a man he emphasized was humble — so humble, he always spoke in a low, quiet voice.

“He ate here at least twice a month, sometimes more,” Ibrahim said, recalling countless times he would sit with Spadafora just socializing, talking about his kids and life, in general. Ibrahim depicted him as having a confident presence, “bigger than life,” yet while being low-key.

Ibrahim attended the funeral Mass and recalled the assistant chief’s doctor’s remarks, describing how Spadafora would listen to the latest diagnosis and would bluntly say, “What can we do?”

“He was very straightforward,” the restaurateur said.

Amy Tan, the author of “The Joy Luck Club,” was a friend and neighbor of Spadafora, and reportedly also spoke at his funeral service.

In addition to his brother, Frederick, Spadafora is survived by his son, Brian, his longtime domestic partner, artist and author Rhonda Roland Shearer, and siblings, Nicholas Spadafora of Manhattan, Sharon Dionisio of West Islip, L.I., and Robert Spadafora of California.

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