A Veteran Firefighter Who Was a Good Joe

March 4, 2002

When a man had a heart attack at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, Joseph Angelini Sr. was the parishioner who quietly crossed the sanctuary to perform CPR.

He was a New York City fireman for almost 40 years, and though the Lindenhurst volunteer fire department was full when he tried to sign up, he went on helping anyway, his wife, Anne, remembers.

When a neighbor's kid broke through a storm door, when someone on the block had a dryer fire, when another neighbor got hit by a car, Angelini was the one who ran over. Put out the fire. Stanched the bleeding. Stabilized the patient. Rode to the hospital. He didn't brag about it. He just did it.

Once, his wife was driving him home from the fire station, and as they passed a neighborhood pond, he yelled to pull over. A kid skating had just gone through the ice. Angelini jumped into the water, rescued the boy and sent him home to dry out.

"We went home and never even got the kid's name," his wife remembered.

Angelini was one of the fire department legends who died in their rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, along with his son, Joseph Jr.

The elder Angelini, 63, was a Rescue 1 firefighter who thought retirement was a dirty word, upset that they were going to kick him out next year at 65. It was getting harder on him all the time: Sometimes, he'd come home on the train so tired that he would sleep through his stop and have to get off in Babylon. Everyone told him, "Retire, retire," but he wouldn't hear of it, his wife said. He loved the job and never complained. Now, village officials are talking about renaming Hoffman Avenue after him.

In Manhattan, where he spent his whole career, Angelini was chosen Man of the Year last year by the Holy Name Society. For 40 years, he was the one to sell tickets to the Communion breakfast, work the St.Patrick's Day parade, collect donations at the firehouse for the children at Christmas.

He was tough as nails at work, but gentle and thoughtful at home, and his grandchildren were his joy, his wife said. He taught them to rappel out of trees on a rope, work with wood, use a 35-mm. camera. He hid a teddy bear, and they'd have to find it with a flashlight and then do CPR on it. He built a rocking horse for them. And he was a "big Christmas addict" who overspent and over-decorated the front lawn with the three wise men, the angel, the nativity scene, the works.

"I told him, it's your Italian coming out," said his wife, who is Irish- American. "He was a character."

She could only bring herself to put up what was absolutely necessary this past Christmas, just a 3-foot tree for the grandkids.

The surviving family members made the best of it, just as Angelini would have wanted. He always told her, keep the house, take care of the kids, if anything ever happened to him. She looks up at a portrait of him hanging in the hallway, and his gaze is serious.

"There's an expression on his face, 'OK, now, deal with it; you handle it from here on,'" his wife said. "That was our deal."

Friends tell her that if her husband had to go, he'd want to go out at a big job. She thinks they may be right.

"Everyone gripes about their job; he didn't," she says. "He was one in a million. I'd like people to know that he was a good Joe."

-- Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)