For 40 years, FDNY Assistant Chief Ronald Spadafora was devoted to serving the City of New York and his FDNY colleagues. When he died in June 2018, he became the 178th and highest-ranking FDNY member to die of Ground Zero illness. He was a 4-Star Staff Chief and Chief of Fire Prevention.
Ron’s line-of-duty death began on September 11, 2001, when he was exposed to deadly toxins while serving as FDNY’s Chief of Safety for the eight months of Ground Zero recovery operations. Ron’s safety protocols at Ground Zero proved successful, resulting in zero worker fatalities occurring among tens of thousands of people working until May 2002, in what was deemed one of the most dangerous construction sites in the world.
As a professor at John Jay and Metropolitan colleges for many years, Ron wrote dozens of articles for WNYF, FDNY’s peer-reviewed fire science journal. His outstanding and extensive research, which resulted in three books, focused not just on safety but on fire operations, fire sciences, promotions, racial diversity, and green building construction (green firefighting), a field he was first to coin and develop.
Ron’s research papers and artifacts are included in the Fire Museum of New York and the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) library and museum collections—a first for any FDNY member. The N-YHS wrote that it is “privileged” to include Ron’s papers within its “rich collections of American and New York City historical documents.”
Ron loved all animals but especially had a tender heart for his red-nose pit bull, Samson. He called Samson his unofficial FDNY “red rover” mascot because he ran toward sirens and loved to ride in the back of any rig.
Ron’s talents went beyond FDNY activities and included a seventh-degree black belt and working as a respected sensei in a dojo. He won dozens of medals and trophies at martial arts competitions and as a high school track star, Ron won dozens more.
As a friend, he was beloved in his Soho neighborhood since 2003, always helping neighbors and street vendors that line Soho sidewalks. Ron loved being grandfather to Fionn, Emmet, Joseph, and Maya, who all called him Beebop. His life partner, Rhonda Shearer, survives him, along with his son, Brian, three brothers, Nick, Bob, and Fred, and sister, Sharon.
However, Ron’s nephew, Robert Spadafora, was his true hero. Despite being a college student struggling with autism, Robert bravely donated his bone marrow to save his uncle—an act that extended Ron’s quality life almost two years.