West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 12 | August 22 - 28, 2007

Villager photo by Nick Brooks

The fire raging at the Deutsche Bank building on Saturday.

Soho firehouse suffers another blow at ground zero

By Lincoln Anderson

Grief hammered the Soho firehouse at W. Houston St. and Sixth Ave. again on Saturday, when two of its firefighters died battling a major blaze at the Deutsche Bank building on Liberty St.

On 9/11, the firehouse lost 11 men — two battalion chiefs, one captain, one lieutenant and seven firefighters — at ground zero.

Last Saturday, the house lost Firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, both of whom had been at the World Trade Center on 9/11 but survived. Tragically, they died in a building that had been fatally damaged during the terrorist attack, but which was still partially standing after six years because of delays over insurance, contract disputes and environmental hazards.

The 41-story Deutsche Bank building had been demolished down to about 25 floors. Its interior was a maze of plywood and plastic sheeting set up to contain asbestos but which — when coupled with dense black smoke and a lack of working standpipes to provide water for the firemen’s hoses — became a deathtrap.

At the Sixth Ave. firehouse, the firefighters came together in their sorrow for their fallen brothers, as family members and other department members came by to join them in mourning. Bouquets, many bearing farewell notes, piled up around metal gates on the sidewalk in front. The press and others were asked to keep a respectful distance.

Arturo’s on W. Houston St. sent over 10 pizzas on Saturday night, just as they did on 9/11 and the days after and as they have done every Sept. 11 since.

“I knew Bobby,” said Lisa Giunta, 45, Arturo’s co-owner. “He’s been in the neighborhood a long time and I grew up here. He was a great guy. Very easygoing, very humble. They’re all young guys over there. They lost so many on 9/11. He was the senior fireman in the house. He was teaching them the ropes.”

She said Beddia and the firefighters often would come by to check Arturo’s coal-burning oven. Tourists would say they smelled fire — but it was just the restaurant starting up the oven.

Villager photo by Milo Hess

Firefighters had to shoot water onto the fire from the ground because the building’s standpipes were not functioning.

Giunta said she had a feeling something disastrous had happened last Saturday when she heard so many sirens outside, and ran over to find out “who had died.”

Suzie’s Chinese restaurant also sent food to the firehouse last Saturday.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stopped by Tuesday afternoon to pay his respects. Actually, the Engine 24/Ladder 5 men were being spelled by other firefighters from local firehouses so that they could attend Graffagnino’s wake in Brooklyn. But Silver said he just wanted to convey the message that Downtowners are thankful for the firefighters’ efforts, wherever they may be posted.

“I just thought it was important to go by the firehouse, with the firemen,” Silver said, “to have coffee, express appreciation. Basically, all I said was, on behalf of the city, we want to thank them.”

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