Funeral for Staten Island Firefighter Hearkens to Aftermath of September 11

By Deborah Young Staten Island Advance

The funeral Friday for Rescue 5 veteran firefighter Lawrence Sullivan, 53, hearkened to the raw aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001:

A line of uniformed firefighters stretched more than four blocks along Lincoln Avenue in front of St. Margaret Mary R.C. Church — standing stick straight in the heat in their ceremonial dress, they did not even shift their white-gloved hands to wipe tears from their cheeks as his coffin passed by. Larry Sullivan — a 23-year member of FDNY and dedicated family man with a quick wit and kind heart — died from a disease seemingly linked to the time he toiled on the pile alongside legions of other first responders, sifting through toxic dust in search of some sign of hope.

Many of the mourners who filed into the standing room-only Midland Beach church were the children and widows of firefighters who perished in the attacks: The pomp and ceremony shaking them back to a time in 2001, just a little later on in the year, when still steeped in disbelief, they were reeling from the succession of funerals.

Now, after a decade of wrestling with the shock of the original, unspeakable event, they are steeling themselves for another round of grief.

Sullivan, who lost an 18-month battle with rare intestinal cancer, would be among the 64 members of the FDNY to die of a disease linked to work at Ground Zero, according to the Department.

Eleven more deaths are still being processed, and dozens more firefighters may just be starting to experience the symptoms of a litany of mysterious diseases.

Even as his illness caused firefighter Sullivan to lose 120 pounds from his 6-foot-2-inch frame, he did not retire from the department he loved almost as dearly as he did his own family.

The fatherly man with comic timing that could send lightness into even the darkest spots, he was just the person to shepherd the Concord firehouse — which lost 11 members September 11 — through the bitter times, eulogists said.

“When Rescue 5 was still mourning the loss of its members, still taking care of families…the majority of this fell on Larry,” said Rescue 5 Captain James Murray, recalling how one night, even after a late call, Sullivan asked if they could stop by the fallen members’ homes and shovel snow. “He was the kind of guy who made sure nothing was ever forgotten.”

Sullivan was fast to remind new recruits the “size of the shoes they had to fill,” said Murray.

“He could bring a smile to your face when you were ready to quit. He had a way of making you laugh when you were ready to cry,” said Murray, launching into a story about a time the company responded to a woman who had fallen on the train tracks.

“The lady looked up at Larry and she asked Larry, ‘How bad do I look?'” said Murray. “He said, ‘I don’t know. That depends on how bad you looked before you were hit by the train.'”

Rescue 5 firefighter Joseph Esposito described Sullivan’s outsize devotion to his wife of 32 years, the former Ginny Clearwater, his three sons, Larry Jr., Robert, and James Sullivan and his daughters, Erin and Kathleen Sullivan.

That kind of fierce loyalty extended to his brothers in the department, said Esposito.

“We have a big hole in our heart again at Rescue 5 Ladder 160,” he said.

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