Fallen firefighter remembered at Engine 90 Ladder 41 dedication

Standing by the plaque (l-r) is Christopher Vignali of Engine 90 and Michael Cook of ladder 41. O’Toole wife Christine, Grandson Milo, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro.
Photo by Aracelis Batista

In 2016 a community and a family lost a most beloved member.

This year, he was permanently memorialized during a plaque dedication in his former firehouse.

Joseph O’ Toole was a firefighter at Engine 90 Ladder 41 on White Plains Road in Van Nest for over two decades and an FDNY First Responder who also was one of the first to help clean up the ‘pile’ after the 9/11 attacks.

Toolie, as he was affectionately called by friends and family, developed 9/11 related cancer and lost his battle to the illness less than 15 years later.

On Tuesday, December 12, 2017, a year after he passed away, the firehouse he called his second home dedicated a plaque in his memory with a sad but very touching special ceremony.

“Normally a plaque dedication takes place when the member passes away and it’s kind of routine,” said Chris Vignali, a firefighter at Engine 90 Ladder 41. “Toolie, he was larger than life. And that’s why this particular ceremony was a little more in-depth than the other ones because of how much of an impact he had on the members of the house and what we lost that day.”

“As a person, Toolie was very loving and caring and that goes beyond the firehouse in the way he interacted with his wife and kids,” Vignali said.

The ceremony garnered more attention than have many others because of the sheer number of people who knew and respected Joseph O’Toole, according to his wife Christine O’Toole.

“People were saying it was amazing and that they’d never seen a turnout for anybody like that with family and friends,” said O’Toole about the ceremony. “There were men that were standing in the street that’s how many people there were.”

“He was the most caring person you ever wanted to meet in your life,” O’Toole said teary-eyed. “He was the first one if ever anyone ever needed anything he was the first one there. And it showed when he was down at Ground Zero.”

In addition to the plaque dedication, the ceremony concluded with the presentation of an FDNY family transport van the O’Toole family had donated.

The van, which also had Joseph O’Toole’s image on it, was paraded down the street to the firehouse.

“Toolie was someone who was always out to help somebody,” said O’Toole. “Now his van will be able to go out and help other people.”

“He needed the van unfortunately when he was going down to radiation and the van that he was in was donated by another family,” O’Toole continued. “This is our way of giving back in Toolie’s honor.”

The plaque has been placed inside the firehouse. It is expected to be moved to another location in the firehouse next to fellow firefighter and his friend, Alex Lopez’ plaque, according to an Engine 90 Ladder 41 representative.

“He was just an all-around fantastic guy who always thought of everybody first,” O’Toole explained. “Even when he got sick he never wanted anyone to worry about him.”

“It’s just, you know, there’s no other word for it, it’s terrible,” O’Toole continued. “But, it was a very proud moment and beautiful ceremony with the plaque dedication because I knew he was looking down and he was extremely happy.”

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.

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