A Serious Firefighter Who Loved a Joke Too

October 16, 2001

Since 1979, when Nick Chiofalo started dating Jerry Nardello's sister, the two men have been fast friends. And after Chiofalo married Joan Nardello in 1981, they never bothered saying "in-law" when they called each other brother.

"I'd call on the phone and say, 'Hey, Joan, is Nick there?'" said Nardello, 38. "She'd say, 'Oh, you don't care about me, as long as Nick's there.' She got a real kick out of that one."

Chiofalo, 39, a firefighter in Bedford-Stuyvesant and a fire chief in Selden, responded with his Brooklyn unit, Engine Co. 235, to the World Trade Center attack Sept. 11. He was last seen going into Tower Two to help evacuate people. His engine company, except for the driver, was lost.

Joan Chiofalo said her husband was her "best friend." "I've known him since high school," she said. "We talked all the time." Their son, Nicholas Chiofalo Jr., is 13.

Nardello remembers his brother-in-law as, above all, someone who loved to work. In addition to his two firefighter positions, he also worked at a fireworks company as a pyrotechnics engineer.

The way Chiofalo got the job was typical of his personality, Nardello said. After an explosion at the fireworks company 16 years ago, in which several employees were killed, Chiofalo wrote a letter of condolence. Company officials met and hired him, Nardello said.

"When you meet him, you take an instant liking to him," Nardello said.

Chiofalo was also a joker, Nardello said, recalling an incident in April when Nardello injured his hand on his job as an elevator mechanic.

Chiofalo "comes in on Easter morning with a screwdriver through his hand and a bandage with ketchup on it and a cane," Nardello said. "That's what kind of clown he is."

If there was one thing Chiofalo was serious about, however, it was being a firefighter.

"If he was going to go, this is the way he wanted to go," Nardello said. "He loved being a fireman. He loved saving lives. And this is what he did."

Joan Chiofalo said she wasn't surprised her husband rushed into the building to help. "When he called me that morning and said he was going I knew he wasn't coming back," she said. "When that building came crushing down, so did the rest of my life."

--Indrani Sen (Newsday)