April 4, 2005
By PATRICK GALLAHUE
New York Post readers dug deep into their pockets and donated a staggering half-million dollars to the Post/UFA Heroes Fund to benefit the families of the three firefighters killed and four injured on "Black Sunday."
"In the worst times of your life, you feel support or comfort whether it's the fireman or people donating," said JoAnn Asch, whose brother, firefighter Richard Sclafani, was killed in a Brooklyn inferno. "It's just a nice feeling."
Donations from as small as a dollar to as large as $100,000 — from actor Denis Leary's Firefighters Foundation — have poured into the fund in just a little more than two months.
The fund now stands at a mind-blowing $505,800.
The Post donated $25,000.
"The UFA and its members' thanks go to the New York Post and its readers for their heartfelt support of these firefighters and families in the wake of the Jan. 23 tragedy," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
"The Heroes Fund received countless cards and letters of support about these brave firefighters," he added. "These well-wishes will be a part of the legacy of their sacrifice and the enormous efforts of The Post and its readers to help them through this terrible time."
Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Battalion 26; John Bellew, of Ladder Co. 27; and Sclafani, of Ladder Co. 103, died in twin blazes on Jan. 23, which has come to be known as Black Sunday.
Sclafani was killed after he was trapped in the basement of a burning house in East New York.
Meyran and Bellew died trying to escape a horrific Bronx building blaze. Trapped by flames, the heroes were forced to make a fatal jump from the fifth floor.
Firefighters Jeffrey Cool, 37, and Joseph DiBernardo, 34, both of Rescue Co. 3; and Eugene Stolowski, 33, and Brendan Cawley, 31, of Ladder Co. 27, were badly hurt in the Bronx fire and spent weeks in the hospital recovering from their injuries.
DiBernardo returned home March 9 from the burn unit of New York Weill Cornell Medical Center after 45 days.
Fire Department Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said, "On behalf of everyone in the FDNY, I thank The Post and all New Yorkers who contributed to the Heroes Fund.
"Your extraordinary support after the tragic events of Jan. 23, 2005, have done much to bolster the spirits of our members during this terrible time. The fund will be a tremendous help in supporting our three families who lost loved ones on that tragic day."
In addition to Leary's giant donation, The Post kicked in $25,000, Barbara Walters gave $5,000, and ordinary citizens found some extraordinary ways to raise cash.
Firefighter Rob Carlo, of Ladder Co. 23, put together a bash in Queens that raised more than $20,000. Because overtime is such as crucial part of a firefighter's paycheck, Carlo said he worried for the families of the injured.
"I'm sure they're having a hard time making ends meet," he said. "They shouldn't have to worry about money at a time like this."
Carlo, who lost his younger brother, firefighter Michael Carlo, on Sept. 11, added, "The country was so good after 9/11, I want to do what I can for these guys, because I know the hardship."
Even an enterprising matchmaker plans to get in on the act by cashing in on the enduring firefighter fetish.
Jay Rosensweig, president of Weekenddating.com, put together a speed-dating event last month with bona fide FDNY smoke-eaters — and a portion of the profits went to the UFA Widows and Children's Fund.
"I'd love to do the next one for the Heroes Fund," Rosensweig said. "I know I'll have absolutely no trouble getting the women. They go bananas for this."
The last event raised more than $1,000, including money raised by the bar.
"I was never disappointed by New Yorkers," Asch said. "I'm a New Yorker, and I always feel that when times are rough, they help."
All the money goes into a special account set up at Amalgamated Bank of New York. The firefighters union said it will divide the funds evenly among the families and take no deduction for administrative expenses.
Credit-card donations can't be accepted, and IRS rules bar the contributions from being tax-deductible. Telephone inquiries about the fund can be directed to Sheila Pettit of the UFA at (212) 545-6962. If you want to help, send a check to:
Heroes Fund, c/o Uniformed Firefighters Association, 204 E. 23rd St., New York, N.Y. 10010