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Recent Past Is Still Present For Firefighter

by Sean Kirst
Copyright October 5, 2001,
The Syracuse Post-Standard.

calabrohead1.jpg Sal Calabro

Sal Calabro painted some rooms last year at Maurizio Scarinci's house, on Staten Island. When Calabro got done, he didn't want any money. Scarinci had to push the cash into his friend's hand.

"That's how he is," Scarinci said. "He's too damn good."

Scarinci speaks of Calabro only in the present tense. He does that for himself, and he does it for "the wives," the women left behind when he lost seven friends on Sept. 11. Scarinci is a firefighter with the "Red Hook Raiders" in Brooklyn, Ladder Company 101 of the Fire Department of New York.

On 9-11, Scarinci was on a Caribbean honeymoon with his new wife, Denise. He traded around to get the right vacation days, "swapping" time with a guy named Joe Maffeo.

Many firefighters, including Calabro, had shown up for the Sept. 8 wedding. The Scarincis had a beach reception on the Jersey shore, where the guests drank cold beer and wore Hawaiian shirts.

So Scarinci was far away on the morning when the twin towers burned. The Red Hook firehouse is barely a mile from the World Trade Center. Scarinci isn't sure when his buddies got the call.

Maffeo, Calabro and five other Red Hook firefighters rode to the trade center in an engine and ladder truck. None of them returned to tell the story for themselves. Their bodies have yet to be recovered in the rubble.

maffeoHeadHelmet.jpg Joe Maffeo

"I visited two of the wives on my way home from work today," Scarinci said. "I told the first wife, "I don't even look at it yet like they're gone. I don't even know how I can face up to it."

He wonders why he was spared, as he speaks in the present tense.

Scarinci's bride, Denise Vitola Scarinci, works for Alan Taylor Communications in New York, where Howard Dolgon is a managing partner. Dolgon also owns the Syracuse Crunch, which opens its American Hockey League season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Bridgeport Sound in the Onondaga County War Memorial.

The Crunch plans to donate $2,500 to the six wives and 11 children left behind by the seven firefighters from Red Hook, an amount that will be matched by the Columbus Blue Jackets, parent club to the Crunch. The Crunch players are taking up a collection of their own. And $1 from every ticket bought throughout the season at the Crunch box office will go toward relief for the Red Hook families.

Dolgon invited Scarinci to come here Saturday to accept those gifts. Scarinci isn't sure that he can do it. He's scheduled to work, and there aren't many people around to take his shift.

No matter what, he wants Syracuse fans to know that he is "overwhelmed" by the outpouring of support.

"This has changed the whole outlook of the neighborhood," Scarinci said.

Red Hook is divided between families in poverty and upscale professionals who commute to Manhattan. Before 9-11, no one paid much attention to the firehouse.

Now, old women offer spontaneous hugs on the street. Neighborhood children treat the firefighters like heroes. One man, walking home from work, wrote out a check and donated $105 - everything he had left in his account. And Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez and Gerald Williams of the New York Yankees stopped by for a visit.

As for Scarinci, every night, he pays a visit to the wives.

He spends a lot of time with Francine Calabro and her two little boys, both preschoolers. Scarinci's 12-year-old son, Jesse, often comes along. "I tell him he's got a responsibility now," Scarinci said. "He's got to be a big brother to these little guys."

Calabro became a mentor to Scarinci, 36, who was hired as a firefighter six years ago. In early September, a couple of days before the wedding, "Sal was one of the guys who schemed up a way for all of us to go out together," Scarinci said. They sat up talking until 4 a.m.

Scarinci is glad for that. He is glad to go home to see the rooms Calabro painted, the job where his friend tried to reject any payment.

"He always gave too much," Scarinci said. "I said to him, "I don't want this job done for free. I'm paying you because I want it done good."

No one in the firehouse knows precisely what happened to their "brothers" on 9-11. The seven firefighters from Red Hook wound up inside the Marriott Hotel, at the base of the trade center.

That's where they were when one of the towers fell. "If you ran in one direction, you were OK," Scarinci said. "Run in the other direction, and you weren't."

He tries not to think about their split-second decision. "They say you had "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two,' and that was it," Scarinci said.

There is only one thing that he knows for sure. Sal Calabro wasn't on duty. His shift ended at 8:30 that morning. He must have hung around, just to talk. He must have watched, with the others, as the jets hit the towers.

When the call finally came, he must have jumped onto the truck.

"He's too damn nice for his own good," Scarinci said.

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