Burly Firefighter Lifted More Than His Share

February 6, 2002

Around Ladder Co. 3 on 13th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, Joseph Maloney was known as "Big Joe"-and with good reason. At 45, he still cut an imposing figure: 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds. To stay in shape, he spent hours pumping iron.

Sometimes, another beefy firefighter would lift a personal best. Then "Big Joe" would come over, casually add 10 pounds to the bar and lift it with aplomb, keeping his rival's ego firmly in check. That strength came in handy when a fellow firefighter once fell into an elevator shaft of a fire-damaged building. "Big Joe" stretched one brawny arm into the hole and plucked out the firefighter like a sack of potatoes.

Maloney also did heavy lifting at home. He and his wife, Kathleen, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, decided they would shoulder the parenting load together. "We didn't have children for other people to raise," Maloney would say. They arranged their schedules so that they could care for their children, Joseph, 10, and Megan, 7, even if that sometimes meant handing the children off in the parking lot of LIJ. Then there was the suburban race between their Farmingville home and school, music lessons, dancing classes and soccer practice.

Maloney, who grew up in Albertson, was big and burly, but friends knew him as a guy who wore his heart on his sleeve. "I love you, man," he would say, and give a mate or a relative one of his patented bear hugs. In the macho confines of the firehouse, that was often greeted with a mumbled: "Yeah, OK, man. All right."

In his off hours, Maloney, who earned a bachelor's degree at the State University College at Old Westbury, might be found in waders, surf-casting around the Island with his brothers, or jogging with his wife.

Maloney also is survived by his parents, James and Mary Maloney of Albertson; brothers James of Huntington and Brian of Smithtown, and sisters Mary Werner of Manassas, Va., and Elizabeth Maloney of Coram.

Late last August, the Maloneys visited Mary's home in Virginia. One night she was bone tired and tried to leave the ongoing party, but her brother wouldn't hear of it. They talked until the wee hours. "His message was: Grab hold of life," she said.

"People tell me he's a hero. I tell them he was a hero way before Sept. 11."

-- Ken Schachter (Newsday)