He Took Pleasure In What Life Had to Offer

December 13, 2001

Firefighters are known for running into burning buildings, rescuing trapped residents and saving the day when things have gone terribly wrong.

And, Deputy Chief Gerard Barbara certainly did his share. Barbara, 53, was just as concerned about the less glamorous side of firefighting - preventing things from going terribly wrong before they actually do.

As New York City's chief of fire prevention, Barbara worked with other city agencies to ensure new buildings adhered to fire codes, and was instrumental in creating a new city law requiring sprinkler systems in multiple-family buildings.

And his efforts didn't end when he went home. His wife's cousin, Patti Kozlowski of Miller Place, said she turned to Barbara when her 10-year-old son "had a little problem playing with matches."

"He pulled him aside and sat down with him and told him of things he had seen and people he had met and people whose lives had been destroyed," she said. "It really had a big impact ... There hasn't been an incident since."

Fire safety was a passion for her husband, Joanne Barbara said. "He was always very concerned about the safety of the firefighters that worked beside him," she said. "He was always making sure that everyone would do the right thing."

That's what he was doing on the morning of Sept. 11. On duty as citywide tour commander at the department's Brooklyn headquarters, he watched as Tower One was hit by a plane. By the time Tower Two was hit, he was already at the scene. Chief of Department Peter Ganci Jr. put him in charge of the rescue effort in Tower Two. As workers streamed from the building, Barbara set up a base in the lobby.

"As the trucks were coming in, he was assigning [the firefighters] positions," his wife said. "Through his efforts, thousands of people were evacuated."

When the building collapsed, Barbara was still in the lobby, witnesses told his wife.

It's been hard to accept that her husband's life ended so abruptly, his wife said. "You're never satisfied if your life is shortened at 53." But Barbara took pleasure in all that his life offered him, she said.

He loved a good meal, and sought out different cuisines across the city. He was also "the biggest Yankees fan there was." He traveled a great deal, taking his family on vacations to Europe and Mexico and on cruises. He spent off-hours working in the garden of the family's Staten Island house, and had installed an artificial pond full of Japanese coy fish.

But, his wife said, "his best enjoyment was his children. He truly loved everything, but the love of his children was the most."

His daughter, Caren, 26, is an assistant treasurer at a bank in the World Financial Center and his son, Paul, 24, is a medical student in Grenada.

"He was very proud of his children, and he was very happy," his wife said. "We each took one day at a time, and we wanted to enjoy every day. No one knows what your future holds, so we always took advantage of every day that we had."

Barbara won many awards, including the 1999 Man of the Year Award from the Columbia Association, an Italian- American fraternal organization in the fire department, and the Pulaski Association Medal in 1980. A memorial service took place at Manhattan's Fire Museum on Sept. 30, and a Mass was celebrated at St. Patrick's Church on Oct.1.

-- Indrani Sen (Newsday)