Fireman Nurtured Kids, Kept Romance Alive

February 8, 2002

He seemed like a man who knew life was precious. His work as a firefighter let him see upfront the tenuous link between life and death. Perhaps that's why Capt. Joseph Farrelly, 47, left behind such a legacy of love.

Children at Public School 3 in Staten Island knew him as "Fireman Joe," who came to their school to teach them about fire safety. Dozens of foster babies, drug-addicted at birth, felt his kind touch and reassuring words. His wife, Stacey, has boxfuls of romantic notes and cards to remind her of his love for her and the children, sent through their 25 years together.

Stacey Farrelly said her husband left her love notes and roses throughout their marriage, and not just on Valentine's Day or their anniversary. She would find these missives, filled with his heartfelt thoughts, on a sticky note on the dashboard of her car or on the back of a receipt on the kitchen table in their Staten Island home. Stacey found what was to be the last love note when she got home Sept.11, a final testament to their life together.

Farrelly, who was with Engine Co. 4 on South Street in Manhattan, was believed to be in a tower lobby when the building collapsed.

Farrelly's body has not been found. A memorial service was held Oct. 15.

His love for his children was evident in the time he spent with them, either at Little League games, the Boy Scouts or at home. His oldest son, Ryan, 20, said his father was an easygoing man. "Never argued, never cursed, never got angry," he said. Ryan's childhood memories include camping trips with his parents, his brother Devin, 18, and their sister Julianne, 11, where they were taught to live in harmony with nature. "He liked to go anyplace where it was relaxed," said Ryan.

Farrelly and his wife also were foster parents to many drug-addicted babies over the years. In 1986, his wife said, she and her husband were watching a TV show on "border" babies who were addicted to drugs and needed stable environments. "I turned to Joe and said, 'We can do that. We can take a baby.'"

For the next seven years, the Farrellys took in newborns and nursed them through their addictions, returning them after six months to foster or adoptive parents. Stacey Farrelly said her husband loved the babies. "He used to like doing the nighttimes," his wife said. "He would talk to them and tell them not to worry, that they would have a good life."

-- Stacey Altherr (Newsday)