Firefighter 'Was Always Helping People'

November 26, 2001

Robert Joseph Foti and his wife, Mary Grace, were driving home to Albertson from Old Westbury Gardens in August when they spotted an elderly woman in an old jalopy, stranded with a flat tire.

Foti got out of his car and spent two hours prying off the flat and replacing it with the spare. After he finished, the woman called him an angel and offered him $10 for his services. Foti refused, but the woman insisted. He took the money, but snuck it into her purse when she wasn't looking, his wife recalled recently.

"That was just the type of guy he was," she said. "He was always helping people."

Foti's mother-in-law, Irene Tastor of Melville, said after seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last year with his family, Foti drove to her home, mashed the potatoes, carved the turkey and cleaned up after dinner. "He was always there," Tastor said.

Foti, 42, a member of Ladder Co. 7, Engine Co. 16 in Manhattan, was last heard from at 8:40 a.m. on Sept. 11, when he told his wife he was getting ready to leave work at 9 a.m., after working an overnight shift.

"They just got married in May," Tastor said. The two met in 1995. Mary Grace was stopped at a red light, and so was Foti, who was sitting in the back of a firetruck.

"I waved to him, and he told me to go to 29th Street," his wife said. "I went, and he took me out to lunch the next day. We actually met on Dec. 5, 1995. He became a firefighter on Dec. 5, 1988."

In his spare time, Foti liked to fish and go deep-sea diving, his wife said. The couple spent time in Jamaica last June, she said. "He had a really good time. He took advantage of everything. Cliff diving, water skiing, diving. I just watched. He was very adventurous and outgoing. He liked to take risks. I guess that probably explains why he became a firefighter."

His wife said the time that has passed since the attack has done little to help her grief. "The more time that has passed, the harder it gets, the longer it has been since I've heard his voice," she said. "Things that were clear aren't so clear anymore. They say it has to get harder before it gets better. I guess that's where I am right now."

-- Nick Iyer (Newsday)