His Company Cap Hangs at Firehouse

September 21, 2001

In the absence of firefighter Larry Veling, his brethren at Engine Co. 235 in Bedford-Stuyvesant are quick with a story reflective of the 15-year veteran's outgoing personality.

He is always bringing cookies for the guys, they said, or playing host to the neighborhood children.

He also loves a good practical joke and is never without a hat, they said. Veling could switch from his fire helmet to a baseball cap - usually one adorned with "Engine Co. 235" - at the bat of an eye.

More than that, Veling is an aggressive firefighter who loves his job and gained the admiration of senior as well as junior firefighters.

Firefighter Steve Gregory, his voice sometimes choking with emotion, recalls a seemingly run-of-the-mill brownstone fire last spring.

"We thought we had it knocked down," Gregory said, "but then a window broke and, with the oxygen coming in, we quickly had a fire rolling over our heads. Larry had the nozzle and just stayed there. He kept the fire [back] so the guys in the hallway could get to safe haven."

Veling, 44, had the nozzle again last week at the World Trade Center, only this time he didn't make it out - nor did four others on the truck: Lt. Steven Bates and firefighters Nicholas Chiofalo, Francis Esposito and Lee Fehling.

Firefighter Phil Scarfi, who was the driver that day and made sure the hoses got hooked up, remembers his buddies taking one last look back at the truck before entering Tower Two, shortly after the second hijacked airliner had hit.

"They all knew what they were going into," Scarfi said. "They all knew they were marching into a battle that would have pretty serious ramifications. I find my strength in their courage."

Also missing is Battalion 57 chief Dennis Cross, who rode to the tower in a separate car.

"They're all the epitome of what a fireman should be," said Capt. John Bevacqua.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, members of Engine Co. 235 have been in constant contact with the families of the missing firefighters, including Veling's wife, Diane, and their three children, Ryan, 8, Cynthia, 6, and Kevin, 3.

Veling, who lives in Gerritsen Beach and co-owned a deli for years, had recently started a new job - cleaning and repairing buildings for the Board of Education - to help pay for a new home.

His company baseball cap, meanwhile, awaits him in the firehouse.

--Rocco Parascandola (Newsday)