Brothers carry on firefighter dad’s legacy after 9/11, join FDNY

National News

NEW YORK (WPIX) – For New York City Fire Department firefighters John and Tommy Palombo, there is no line between work and family — they are one and the same.

Their father, firefighter Frank Palombo, was one of seven members of Engine Company 219, Ladder Company 105 who died on Sept. 11. 

He left behind his wife, Jean, and their 10 young children, including John and Tommy. The youngest was only 11 months old. Frank’s fellow FDNY members stepped in to help raise the children, and his death inspired two of his sons to eventually join the force.

“This is what I always wanted,” said Tommy, talking about his decision to become a firefighter. “After 9/11, for sure, is when I really knew.” 

Tommy, who was only nine on Sept. 11, recalls his first thoughts from that day.

“I’ll never forget my first initial thought when I was told that he was there and he was missing,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he had his helmet on, right?’ Just to say like, I was so young, I just didn’t really get it.” 

As a child, John saw his dad as a superhero.

“He was a fireman, my dad, and nothing ever could happen to my dad,” he said he thought.

They remember their father as a simple person who wanted to do his job well and take care of his family. He was a man of faith, holding morning prayer with the children on Sundays, and often served as the family chef, making pizza, pasta and meatballs.

The brothers also remember their father as a loyal friend.

“He was the first one to say ‘I got you,’” John said.

Frank’s death left his wife with the difficult task of raising 10 children as a single parent. But, both brothers say firefighters stepped in as father figures to help. 

“I’m just very grateful for all the people that were here and helped my mom and helped my family and cooked for us and did so many things that I probably will never find out about,” John said.

In 2009, the Palombo family was dealt another blow: their mother was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer. Doctors gave her between six and nine months to live. Jean ended up living another four years before passing away in 2013. Eight of the siblings continued living in the family home, helping to raise one another. 

The brothers credit their parents with imparting the life skills needed to stay strong as a family, and both are extremely grateful for their siblings. 

“It was as if, when my dad passed away, my dad left 10 gifts for my mom, which were little pieces of him,” said John.

“We’re all little pieces of our mom and dad,” said Tommy. “We all come from them.” 

Both brothers feel a special connection with their father when they return to his firehouse. 

“I feel him with me a lot,” said Tommy.

“I feel like I’m home,” said John. “I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m with my family. And that’s one of the greatest things to feel.” 

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