By Virginia N. Sherry Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “My father was with me the whole day,” said West Brighton resident Christopher Mascali, 30, one of the 242 probationary firefighters at the FDNY graduation ceremony on Thursday.
His dad, Joseph, a firefighter with Rescue 5, was killed in the terror attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“There were eight legacies in our class,” noted Mascali, using the term to describe new firefighters whose fathers and brothers died in the line of FDNY duty. “We’re carrying on their tradition and footsteps.”
Sean Cullen was 18 years old when his brother, firefighter Thomas Cullen III of Squad 41 in the Bronx, lost his life on 9/11.
“This was a long time coming for us,” said Cullen, now 30, who also lives in West Brighton. “I wanted to do this before my brother was killed, and (his death) never deterred me – it strengthened my resolve to become a firefighter.”
Cullen is assigned to Engine 290 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, which he described as “the busiest house in the city.”
Mascali told the Advance that he pulls his first tour on Monday night at Engine 255 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
“It’s a relief that the Academy is over, and I’m excited to get into the field,” he added. He described Engine 255 as “a really great place, everything I dreamt it would be.”
The FDNY graduating class also included Michael Esposito and Stephen Regaglia.
Esposito’s father, Michael, an Eltingville resident and FDNY lieutenant at Squad 1 in Brooklyn, perished on 9/11.
So did Regaglia’s brother, Westerleigh native Leonard Regaglia, of Engine 54 in Manhattan.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano presided over Thursday’s graduation ceremony, and disclosed that the new class is the most diverse in the Fire Department’s history, with 62 percent of the probationary firefighters identifying as minorities – including 24 percent as black and 36 percent as Hispanic.
The previous most diverse class graduated in May 2013, when 40 percent of the “probies” were from minority backgrounds.
In 2002, there were 625 firefighters from minority backgrounds serving in the FDNY, and that number has nearly doubled, to more than 1,200 in 2013.
Thursday’s graduating class included 35 U.S. military veterans.
The ceremony was held at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.