New York Times Portraits of Grief
John P. Napolitano won enough awards, medals and citations from the New York Fire Department and the Lakeland Fire District in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., where he lived, to fill a box.
And a box is where he kept them.
"He didn't have to wear medals on his chest," said his father, John. "I really admired him, not for what he did for a living, but for how he lived his life."
Lieutenant Napolitano — he was promoted posthumously — was a fireman's fireman. He showed up as an experienced rookie in 1991, having started as a junior volunteer with the Lakeland district when he was 17. He eventually became chief and commissioner there.
Robert Galione worked with Lieutenant Napolitano at Rescue 2 in Brooklyn, following him into some tough fires. "He'd go into a fire that was roaring so loud we couldn't hear anything," Firefighter Galione said. "I was right behind him humping the hose, so I know he never took a step back."
Firefighting was his life's work, but not his life. "What did he do outside the firehouse?" said his father. "That's the easiest question to answer. Being with his wife and kids. Period. End of story."
To please his two little girls, Elizabeth and Emma Rose, Lieutenant Napolitano, 33, would do almost anything. The image that sticks in the mind of his wife, Anne, is of him trying to fly a kite on a windless day to make the girls smile.