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FDNY honors Bayside Bravests’ service at Ground Zero

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FDNY Capt. Kevin Cassidy and Firefighter James Ryan were men who would not think twice about returning to help at Ground Zero, even after they knew they would die from the cancer they were diagnosed with after responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, family and friends said at a ceremony honoring the two men at a Bayside firehouse last week.

Cassidy, 59, a Long Island resident who grew up in Queens Village, and Ryan, 48, also a Long Island resident, were remembered as the ultimate firefighters during the ceremony Friday at which leaders of the FDNY dedicated two plaques to the men that will hang in Engine 320 and Ladder 167 at 36-18 Francis Lewis Blvd. in Bayside.

“It’s a great honor to me, one of the highest honors you can have,” Rose Cassidy, Kevin’s wife of 34 years, said of the plaque. “It’s recognition that they did this fantastic job.”

Cassidy, who started his career as a firefighter in the Bronx in 1977 and began his work as a captain for the FDNY in Bayside in October 2001, died of kidney cancer in 2009. Before he died, his oncologist had said to Cassidy that the captain’s life could have been different if he had known of all the chemicals to which he had been exposed at Ground Zero — inferring he could have stayed away from the site.

“He looked at her and said, ‘There were men and women there; it would not change a thing,’” said Rose Cassidy, who attended Friday’s dedication with many family members, including their two daughters, Keri Harris, 33, and Jean Cassidy, 30. Harris also brought her 9-month-old daughter, Cassidy Bell, whom she named in honor of her father.

FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said he could not praise Cassidy and Ryan enough.

“The department lost two great examples of what it means to be a firefighter,” Cassano said. “They were great men. Firefighter Jimmy Ryan was a practical joker and a mentor to others, and Capt. Kevin Cassidy knew how to maintain order but still kept things light.”

Ryan, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, started and ended his career as a firefighter at the Bayside fire house. His wife Magda said it had always been Ryan’s dream to work in the FDNY.

“He absolutely loved it,” Magda Ryan said. “He gave his all to his job, and to us. He was a great father and a great husband.”

James Ryan’s children also attended the ceremony, including Robert, 18; Christian, 16; and Maddie, 10.

The plaques that now hang in Engine 320 and Ladder 167 will remind generations of firefighters to come of Cassidy and Ryan, Chief of Department Edward Kilduff said.

“Kevin and Jimmy served our neighborhood very well,” said Kilduff, a Bayside resident. “Now my neighbors will know exactly what Kevin and Jimmy did, and that makes me especially proud.

Cassidy served in the Army in Vietnam before becoming a firefighter and loved nothing more than spending time with his family and colleagues, said one of Cassidy’s close friends, James Bert of Engine 314 in Rosedale. An avid golfer and skier, Cassidy was a quiet man who never boasted of his accomplishments — of which there were many, Bert said.

“God willing when we’re all done with our time on Earth, he’ll be waiting at the 19th hole in the sky, and we’ll tip a couple of cold ones back,” Bert said.

Ryan was a mentor who routinely worked with young firefighters, said his friend Capt. Rocco Fertoli, who retired from Ladder 167.

“Jimmy was the kind of guy who made things happen in the firehouse,” Fertoli said. “He was a natural.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:48 am, October 12, 2011
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