Thousands gather to honor Maspeth firemen

By Dustin Brown

When Capt. Denis Murphy of Squad 288 learned that neighbors were planning a vigil to honor the 19 men from his Maspeth firehouse missing in the collapse of the Twin Towers, he did not understand how deeply his men’s sacrifice resonated with the community.

“I came here expecting 100 people and to see this outpouring of emotion,” he said.

But thousands of supporters swelled around the firehouse of Haz Mat 1 and Squad 288 Sunday night, lighting candles and singing patriotic tunes as local leaders praised the city’s bravest in front of their families, who gathered at the firehouse for the first time since the disaster.

“All these members of the community — to see them here really means something to us,” Murphy said.

At nearby Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, at least 3,000 neighbors gathered in a field to remember the dead and the missing from the World Trade Center. They stood beneath a clear blue sky marred only by the lingering clouds of smoke rising from the site of the towers, which a week earlier were visible from the park.

When the Juniper vigil drew to a close, the thousands of flickering lights peeking through the darkness dispersed, and the crowd pushed onto the street in a pilgrimage to the Maspeth firehouse.

As she walked with friends toward the vigil, Phyllis Poliseno soberly recalled that her son would have perished with his fire company, Engine Co. 54 in Midtown Manhattan if he had not requested a day off Sept. 11. When he arrived at the scene as the second tower collapsed, he was told his company had been climbing the first tower when it fell.

“Mentally he’ll never get over it,” his mother said. “He’s so broken up because his brother firemen are gone.”

At the vigil in Maspeth, the converging crowds swelled around the firehouse at the intersection of Borden and Perry avenues, pouring onto Grand Avenue and the overpasses of the Long Island Expressway.

For the most part, the vigil maintained a spirit of hope and faith.

“We still hope that they will be found,” said Patricia Schulze, a teacher from Maspeth who attended with her daughter. “We pray that if they are still alive, God will lead them out.”

For the remaining firefighters and the families of those who were lost, the support made a trying time more bearable.

“We can’t express how much it means to us. We have to focus on there,” Murphy said, pointing to the crowd. “So we can’t focus on here,” he continued, gesturing inside the firehouse.

The firehouse lost so many men because its companies are the first to respond to major disasters in the city, affording their men more opportunities to do what they love — fight fires.

“You’re in a unit that goes to everything,” he said. “If it was a quiet engine company, they wouldn’t have come here. That’s why they’re here.”

In Middle Village Monday morning, firefighter Michael Weinberg was laid to rest in a ceremony at Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church. Although he was not on duty at the time, he gave up his morning golf game and sped to the World Trade Center upon learning of the plane crash.

Remembering the fallen firefighter stationed in Midtown, one of his friends said Weinberg had told him he was headed for a golf course he had played many times before “because I haven’t parred the course.”

“For those of us that knew Mike, we all know that he parred the course of life,” the friend said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

More from Around New York