By Joseph Kellard
If its dimensions could have been quantified, Ken Marino's love for firefighting was an Empire State Building among skyscrapers. His interest in the profession was sparked at the time when young boys begin thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. But for Marino, the interest developed into a passion that he carried into adulthood.
"Ever since I could remember, ever since Kenny was very, very young, he always wanted to be a fireman," said Mary Ann Marino, Ken's mother, during a street dedication ceremony last Saturday in honor of her son, who died while saving people at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
From the corner of Weidner Avenue and Frank Street in Oceanside, where Marino played fireman with his friends, and before some 200 people, including firefighters from the Oceanside, Long Beach and New York City departments, Mary Ann recounted her son's passion for his career.
As soon as he turned 18, Marino joined Hose Co. One in Oceanside, and went on to departments in Long Beach, Mineola, Monroe and New York City. Spending 11 years in the city department, Marino served for the last two with Rescue One Co., an elite FDNY unit. When he joined the city department, Mary Ann and her husband, Pat, were nervous, and asked Ken why he'd want to take on a job that involved the danger of fighting fires in tall buildings.
"He'd say, 'You don't understand,'" Mary Ann told the crowd under a cloudless sky and a large American flag ruffled by a cool breeze. The flag hung above an arch formed by two stately fire engine ladders. "He was right, we didn't understand. And we still don't understand. But what we do understand is the strength, bravery and heroism that was Kenny. … What we also understand is that to be a firefighter is not a job, it's a calling. It's to be a very special person, and that was Kenny -- very, very special."
Anthony Granice, a friend of Marino's when he was growing up on Weidner Avenue, recalled that his friend had never stopped talking about becoming a firefighter since he was 6.
"His firematic skills were second to none," Granice said about the fireman Marino became. "This passion to save lives eventually led Kenny to Rescue One. Not just anyone could be a member of Rescue One. It was an elite unit that requires a unique individual who has excellent physical skills, drive and dedication. Kenny was the best of the best."
"Where do we get such heroes?" Hempstead Councilman Anthony Santino asked. "They come from places like Oceanside, streets like this. Ordinary men and women, growing up in this great country and community, living their lives, learning their lessons, being led on the path of life that leads to tremendous things."
The most important lesson of Sept. 11, said Marino's sister, Lynda, is to remember the tremendous things people like her brother did — namely, "that when disaster strikes, there are people in this world who defy the human instinct to flee and conversely run in the direction of danger in order to help."
Lynda characterized her brother as a valiant, strong, smart, funny and hardworking man who "cared deeply for his family and absolutely loved his job."
While it's painful for her to imagine what he saw and felt while doing that job at the WTC inferno, Lynda continued, "I seek comfort in knowing that he lost his life doing what he loved to do most."
Marino's father, Pat, stood between his wife and daughter and laid a comforting hand on their shoulders throughout the ceremony, as Marino's wife, Katrina, held their son, Tyler, 3, and daughter Kristin, 5, stood close by.
"I truly believe that by remembering and celebrating the lives of [heros like Marino], we weave grief, pain and sorrow into strength, courage and connection," said Supervisor Kate Murray before she lifted Tyler and Kristin to pull the rope and unveil the street sign that reads, "Kenneth J. Marino Avenue."
Granice told the crowd that just as the twin towers should be rebuilt to remind future generations of what originally stood at the WTC site, this sign will remind kids that heroic men have come from the streets where they play.
Katrina said after the ceremony that it held a lot of meaning, having taken place on the street where her husband was raised. "He always bragged about us, so it was great that we got the chance to brag about him," she said.
Marino's mother, who said that holding the ceremony just days before the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks made the memorial more meaningful, implored the crowd to "never forget" 9/11, the bravery of the men and women who ran into the towers to save lives, the innocent people who were killed that day, "and Kenny."
One of Marino's buddies who will never forget him is Frank Corona, an Oceanside native who fights fires with Ladder 119 in Williamsburg. After the ceremony, Corona recalled how Marino exhibited unusual confidence when he played softball in Oceanside, and how he always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude. Corona's fondest memory of Marino, however, is of when Corona was in the fire academy and was having trouble tying knots for rescue procedures, a requirement for becoming a firefighter.
"Ken took the time out of his schedule and invited me over to his house, and he had the whole entire course laid out in his backyard," Corona recalled. "And station by station, he took me and taught me, and he showed me a video. The next day was the test, and I aced it. He gave me the confidence. He was just so into the job. There weren't enough days in the week for the fire department. Even on his off time, he was learning how to be a better fireman. He was an awesome fireman."
* This story was originally published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in September 2003.
By Joseph Kellard