Mourners honor fallen New York City firefighter

April 21, 2012 3:15:23 PM PDT
A New York City fire lieutenant who died fighting a blaze was remembered Saturday at his funeral as a big, playful man who lived for his wife and two children and saw his service with the Fire Department as far more than a vocation.

A hero's send-off to heaven had firefighters lining the street in front of the church, as far as the eye could see in each direction.

They came to honor a fallen friend, a father, and a husband.

Lt. Richard Nappi collapsed Monday as his engine company attacked a hot, smoky fire at a Brooklyn warehouse. Authorities think he suffered heat exhaustion and a heart attack.

Around 400 mourners filled a church in Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island to memorialize the fallen 47-year-old.

Nappi, a 17 year veteran of the FDNY, was eulogized by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano.

Colleagues described him as a larger than life character who loved to talk and cheer the Mets.

Bravest came from near and far to pay their respects for Nappi's ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

One chief made the trip to Long island from Florida.

"Rich Nappi was a great man," said Melbourne, Fla. Fire Chief Michael Gilbert. "He was an even greater firefighter and a wonderful friend."

All who knew him said family always came first.

Friends pledged to help his wife Mary Anne carry on, and to never let daughter Catherine and son Nick forget how proud their father was of them.

"I wish nothing but the best for them and peace," said Joan McGeever, one of Nappi's neighbors in Farmingdale. "Rich is in a good place now."

"A family man," said fellow FDNY firefighter Michael Bavino. "When his kids came after being married you could just tell that it meant everything to him."

As they said goodbye, an FDNY deacon reminded what Lieutenant Nappi and the others who died in the line of duty before him signify to all of us.

"When we see a turnout like this, we see the significance of one individual life, how it can exacerbate into so many other lives." said deacon Owen Farley.

Nappi has been living his life for others for 30 years.

He first volunteered to become a firefighter when he was only 18 years old in the Smithtown Fire Department.

Mayor Bloomberg compared Nappi to the bulldog mascot at his Brooklyn firehouse, saying they both had "a stocky, powerful build, a playful, outgoing personality, and a tough, bulldog determination."

"He never lost his taste for firehouse pranks," Bloomberg said. But on the job, he added, "he was also all-business."

Hundreds of firefighters lined up, shoulder-to-shoulder, outside the Church of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and stood at attention as Nappi's casket was carried into the chapel. It was draped with a Fire Department flag.

There were more mourners than could fit inside the church.

"He was so good to my kids, his kids, his wife. My heart just aches for her," said McGeever. "He was too young. But if there was any way to go, it would be in the line of duty. He gave his life for the Fire Department - lived and breathed it."

A wake was held on Friday with FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano, along with hundreds of firefighters, in attendance.

Nappi grew up in Farmingville, where he served as a state parole officer and case worker.

The 47-year-old had a very distinguished career and was one of the many who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11.

He lived in Farmingville with his wife and their two children, a 12-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. But often he could be found in nearby Yaphank, at the Suffolk County Fire Academy, where he served as a field instructor.

"I come in here, and he'd be sitting there, and I'd say 'Rich, you're not scheduled for tonight,'" Suffolk Fire Academy Chief Bob Hopkins said. "'Somebody's bound to call and cancel, so I'm here,' he says. 'I'm available.'"

Nappi is the first city firefighter to die in the line of duty since 2009.

At the request of the officers and members of Engine 237, a scholarship fund has been established by the FDNY Foundation for Nappi's children.

FDNY Foundation
Lieutenant Richard A. Nappi Children's Education Fund
9 Metrotech Center
Brooklyn, NY, 11201

All Donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of the donation will be given to the Lieutenant Richard A. Nappi Children's Education Fund.

Get Eyewitness News Delivered

Facebook | Twitter | Newsletters | Text Alerts