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Graffagnino legacy looms larg in Ridge - BRCC awards honor firefighters, cops

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A tribute to a fallen firefighter was a highlight of the Bay Ridge Community Council’s annual Police and Fire Awards ceremony. The award by the council to Firefighter Joseph Graffagnino, a son of Dyker Heights who was killed last August in the fire at the Deutsche Bank building near Ground Zero, was the first time the group had ever honored someone posthumously, said Jane Kelly, the co-chairperson of BRCC’s Police and Fire Committee. “Joseph was so much a part of the community and so much alive that we felt it was the right thing to do,” she noted. Also honored, as Police Officer of the Year, was Police Officer Paul Montana, of the 68th Precinct. Finally, 68th Precinct Auxiliary Police Officer Christian Durante was named Auxiliary Police Officer of the Year. “We salute Joey Graffagnino,” intoned Kelly as the crowd that filled the auditorium at St. Ephrem’s School, 7415 Fort Hamilton Parkway, rose to their feet in a solemn tribute. Graffagnino — who was an eight-year veteran of the FDNY, and the 1,136th member of the FDNY to die in the line of duty – was the immediate selection of FDNY officials who were contacted, noted Kelly. Noting that Graffagnino, a member of Manhattan’s Engine 24 company, was “well-loved in the community” where he had lived his whole life, Kelly recalled that, while it “usually takes a few weeks” for FDNY brass to make a recommendation, “They said they couldn’t think of anyone that they could honor as Firefighter of the Year when Joseph Graffagnino was there.” A biography of Graffagnino submitted to BRCC and written by Captain Patrick McNally of Ladder 5, included a description of the harrowing experience faced by the late firefighter and colleague Bobby Beddia, who also died in the blaze. “As Engine 24 advanced up to the 15th floor,” Haring recounted, “conditions worsened to the point where you could not see your hand in front of your face. Engine 24 remained at their position to control the fire and lead others to safety. “The members of Engine 24 began to run out of air,” McNally went on. “Joey and Bobby began to look for the way out of the maze-lie conditions. In their search for an exit, Joey and Bobby became separated from the line and they ran out of air. In those conditions, they could not last without their facepieces. In the face of great danger, Joey operated in the highest traditions of the FDNY.” Graffagnino’s family was on hand to accept the award. In addition, firefighters from local firehouses as well as the house shared by Engine24, Ladder 5 and Battalion 2, crowded into the room to take part in the tribute to their late colleague. Montana, for his part, was honored for his efforts on behalf of the Bay Ridge community. “Before I met him,” noted Kelly, “I had heard about him. He goes along 86th Street and all the storekeepers and people in the neighborhood know him.” Born in Dyker Heights, Montana has a long history of community activity, said Kelly. He has been assigned to the 68th Precinct since August, 2003, she added, making “over 150 arrests” during his time at the command. “He has received 10 Department citations,” Kelly went on, “and has been recognized as Cop of the Month three times. He was also the first recipient of the 86th Street BID award.” Deputy Inspector Eric Rodriguez, the precinct’s commanding officer, said that Montana was an exemplary cop because of, “His professional courtesy to the community, his respect to the community, his work ethic. “I’m proud of you,” he told Montana. As for Durante, he is currently a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and was assigned to the 68th Precinct auxiliaries in March, 2007, said Kelly. “In a short time,” she went on, “he gained the respect of supervisors and officers.” Since being assigned to the precinct, he has volunteered, “One thousand hours of service to the command and community,” Kelly went on. “He believes the presence of auxiliary officers helps the neighborhood flourish and keep it safer.” Once he graduates from college, she added, Durante plans to pursue a career in criminal justice, either in the NYPD, FEMA, Homeland Security or Parks enforcement.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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