Nearly eight months after he was found dead from an accidental overdose of painkillers and anti-depressants, retired Fire Lieutenant, Joseph P. DiBernardo, will be honored with a “line of duty” death designation by the FDNY .for the “Black Sunday” fire that left him with debilitating physical and emotional wounds.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted, ” said DiBernardo’s mother, Barbara, who was notified by phone, with her husband, about the decision by FDNY Fire Commissioner, Salvatore Cassano. “He did die because of Black Sunday, and now he’s being recognized.”
DiBernardo died last November 22nd, nearly seven years after he was forced to jump from the top floor of a burning, Bronx apartment with five, other firefighters. He initially survived with catastrophic injuries that broke every bone in his body, below his waist.
Two other firemen, John Bellew and Curtis Meyran, died that morning of January 23, 2005. DiBernardo suffered for years with excruciating pain in his feet, in particular, along with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
His father, retired Deputy Chief Joseph DiBernardo, launched a campaign to get his son recognized on the FDNY’s Wall of Honor, where more than eleven hundred other names appear for “line of duty” deaths. Chief DiBernardo tearfully told PIX 11 back in April “I won’t rest, and my son won’t rest, until he’s on that wall.” More than eight thousand people across the country and even overseas signed a petition to get DiBernardo honored.
DiBernardo, Junior was hailed as a hero after the “Black Sunday” fire, because he wrapped a personal safety rope around his arm for his Rescue 3 colleague, Jeff Cool, a father of two sons. Cool tried to slide down the rope to lessen the four story fall, before it gave way and Cool tumbled to the concrete nearly four stories below. DiBernardo tried to use what was left of the rope to lessen his fall, but he still suffered horrific injuries that left him in an 18 day coma.
After DiBernardo was found dead last November 22nd in his bedroom–with his beloved dog, Rescue, resting on his body–thousands of volunteer and city firefighters attended his funeral from around the country.
Fire Commissioner, Salvatore Cassano, personally spoke to PIX 11 about Monday’s decision, which he delivered to DiBernardo’s parents over the phone about 3 pm:
“It’s the right thing to do,” the Commissioner said. “Even though he survived, he was in so much pain. It’s not that he wanted to take the pain killers; he had to.”
Commissioner Cassano noted this was not a decision he arrived at lightly and that he looked at the case on its merits. “He was forced to jump out of a window during the fire,” Cassano said. “The chain of events after the fire were all related.”
The Commissioner told PIX 11 DiBernardo’s name will be added to the Wall of Honor in about a month. Then, on the anniversary of his death in November, there will be a plaque dedication at Rescue 3, his firehouse in the Bronx.
Joseph P. DiBernardo will be the 1, 143rd name added to the Wall of Honor for a “line of duty” death.
His father said this fight wasn’t about pension money. It was about his son getting well-deserved respect. “I think Joey is smiling from heaven now, because now he can join the other guys on the Wall who died that day.”