Sons of FDNY firefighters who were killed by 9/11 illness losing chance to serve

By Ginger Adams Otis New York Daily News

Sons of NYFD first responders — James Tancredi (from left), Scott Barocas, John Sullivan, Michael Sullivan, Robert Sullivan, Lawrence Sullivan Jr. and James Sullivan — have slipped in the line to become firefighters because their fallen fathers died of 9/11 illnesses, which are not considered deaths 'in the line of duty.' David Wexler for New York Daily News

Sons of NYFD first responders — James Tancredi (from left), Scott Barocas, John Sullivan, Michael Sullivan, Robert Sullivan, Lawrence Sullivan Jr. and James Sullivan — have slipped in the line to become firefighters because their fallen fathers died of 9/11 illnesses, which are not considered deaths ‘in the line of duty.’ David Wexler for New York Daily News

They dreamed of following in the firefighter footsteps of their fathers who died of 9/11-related illnesses.

But then government bureaucrats declared their dads’ deaths weren’t heroic enough to be fully considered “in the line of duty.”

At least 13 men who banked on a longstanding FDNY policy granting children of firefighters who died on the job preferential status are devastated because their dreams have gone up in smoke.

“We’ve all been waiting at least five years just to get in the running to get the job. And now that we’re here, they’ve taken away the legacy of our fathers,” said Scott Barocas, whose father, Capt. Sheldon Barocas, died in 2011 from a 9/11-related cancer.

Barocas, 28, is among the unlucky group who received a letter in May from the FDNY notifying them of a mind-boggling interpretation of civil service law that their dads — who endured slow deaths from 9/11-related illnesses — died on administrative duty.

That meant Barocas lost so-called “legacy points,” which vaulted him to the 20th spot in the long line of would-be firefighters.

Without the 10 extra points, Barocas plummeted to 1,935th place.

John and Michael Sullivan faced the same disappointment.

They were near the top of the list thanks to the 10 extra bonus points added to their scores due to their father’s tragic death following 27 years as a firefighter.

John Sullivan died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 — fewer than 90 days after retiring. The illness was caused by his work in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

“My dad was the type of person who gave everything to his firehouse, the job was everything. I couldn’t understand it. How could this be true?” said Michael Sullivan, 29.

His father listed on a plaque at FDNY headquarters honoring firefighters who died from illnesses linked to the “rescue and recovery operation” at the Trade Center site — as are the fathers of the other 12 applicants.

Yet that honor only extends so far. Without the points for his dad’s service, Michael Sullivan dropped from 284th place to somewhere in the 11,000s.

John Sullivan Jr. said the legacy points didn’t amount to preferential treatment, but fair treatment.

“There is a tragic disconnect between the observation of those who died that terrible day and those who have died every day since,” said John Sullivan Jr., alluding to the agony caused by a 9/11-related illness.

State Sens. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Greg Ball (R-Carmel) spearheaded an amendment to civil service law that would define “killed in the line of duty” to include firefighters and cops who perished as a result of illnesses contracted during the cleanup.

It passed the Legislature June 18, but for reasons that are unclear Gov. Cuomo has yet to sign the bill.

“The bill is not on our desk at this time but it is under review,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

But it may already be too late for these candidates, said Golden.

“If the bill had been passed and signed into law earlier, they had a chance, but my understanding is now that the FDNY has started hiring, this list can’t be changed,” he said.

The FDNY started its first class Monday.

The FDNY usually only hires once every four years and may take anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000. Candidates who don’t get selected can try again when the next test is given — as long as they’re still 29 or younger.

Six of the 13 candidates will age out by the next hiring round.

Most of them, like James Tancredi, 24, whose father Lt. Vincent Tancredi died of brain and lung cancer in 2008, have also applied for FDNY tests before.

The last test they took in 2007 was tossed out by a Brooklyn judge because the city was in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit challenging its use of entrance exams. That meant another five years of waiting before the FDNY started hiring again.

“We’ve all got the same message: Please Gov. Cuomo, sign the bill,” said Barocas.

The policy could also dash the dreams of youngsters who barely knew their firefighter dads.

Jennifer McNamara’s son, Jack, was only 2 years old when his dad died in 2009 of colon cancer after logging 500 hours at the World Trade Center site post-9/11. She said Jack deserves the right to honor his father, John.

“It breaks my heart to see these kids who just want to get on the job like their dads. I understand the need to want to be like your father, especially when he’s gone way too soon,” Jennifer said.

“I don’t know what Jack will want to do when he grows up, but to the extent that he wants to fulfill his dad’s legacy, he should have every option to do it.”

Both the FDNY and Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which assists in hiring, did not respond to requests for comment.

With Stephen Rex Brown

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