Palm Bay park would honor firefighters

By Patricia Walsh

PALM BAY - As flames and smoke poured from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, firefighter George DiPasquale climbed the Tower One stairs, one of the rescue workers dispatched to help people still trapped inside.
As he climbed higher, the 33-year-old passed people making their way down to safety. Among those who survived were other firefighters who last saw DiPasquale in the stairwell. Killed when the tower collapsed, his body has not been found.

For DiPasquale's mother, Cherie Howell of Palm Bay, only memories remain. While she has found comfort in the support offered by others, including many firefighters, Howell wishes she had a place to mourn her son.

That may happen - and close to home, too.

Some Palm Bay residents and the city's fire chief propose honoring DiPasquale and other U.S. firefighters killed in the line of duty with a local park.

Palm Bay Fire Chief Larry Hellman has said city firefighters are willing to help build it.

"We have three separate families who each have lost a firefighter (at the Twin Towers) in New York City," he said.

Hellman visited Howell at her home after the Sept. 11 strikes. In talking with her and the two other families, Hellman said, it was clear that all of the parents were "very, very proud" of the work their sons performed.

Howell said that a local memorial including her son would bring her great comfort.

"If they do the park, then I'll have a place to go to see him. I don't have a place to go in New York. The park site would be like a grave," said Howell, an accountant for the City of Melbourne at Melbourne International Airport and a 12-year resident of Palm Bay.

The chief said he plans to urge city leaders to allow firefighters to construct a firefighters' memorial outside City Hall similar to the police memorial at Sacrifice Park. He hopes local businesses or individuals will donate some of the necessary materials.

Hellman recommends the memorial list the names of all firefighters who died in the line of duty nationwide from the year 2000 forward. "Palm Bay is very, very fortunate. We have never had a firefighter die in the line of duty (here)," he said.

Resident William Almeter and a group of friends first suggested the park dedication at a recent Palm Bay City Council meeting. "We just want to honor their work, and their sacrifice," Almeter said in an interview.

City Council members expressed interest in the idea, and City Manager Bob Nanni said that the city was looking into the possibilities. "I think everyone wants to see something done," he said, noting council members had expressed a desire to recognize all firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Howell described her son, George, the oldest of her three sons, as a warm, caring person who enjoyed tennis and basketball. He was a self-taught guitar player who liked to play Eric Clapton songs, she said.

"He was very kind, and very devout. He really lived his religion. His nickname was The Holy Man. I didn't know that. They told me that when I went to his station. . . . They really loved him, and missed him," she said.

DiPasquale was on duty Sept. 11 with New York's Engine Company 8 at the Hell's Kitchen fire station when emergency workers were notified that the first hijacked airliner had slammed into one of the Twin Towers. "My son loved his job, and he was in there doing what he loves," she said.

He may have been thinking that day of plans for his wedding anniversary the next day, she said, and his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Georgia Rose, who will be 2 in December.

Howell returned to New York City for the Oct. 28 memorial service at ground zero. It was her second trip there. "It helped, because we were all there, collecting ashes, facing down the fact that that was all there was," she said.