Commissioner Salvatore Cassano has known Al for a very long time. Both worked in the FDNY. Although they never worked in the same firehouse, their paths crossed over the 40+ years that they were both in the department.
When Commissioner Cassano retired he wrote a piece in “The Command,” a newspaper which is sent to FDNY Chiefs. Sal thanked many people for his accomplishments. He “worked with the best,” he said about his former peers and leaders. That was typical of Sal. In our years as a 9/11 family Sal Cassano embraced all the families. He helped all of us not only on our journey to healing from our horrific loss, but he also encouraged us to fight the wrongs. He supported us in our many efforts. He made us feel that we could accomplish so many things. And we did accomplish! We did succeed! We had the Fire Commissioner and the former Chief of the Department in our corner. Sal was able to make us feel that we had a voice. He made us feel that we mattered. He made us feel that we could succeed with patience and perseverance.
Al and I were fortunate to become a part of the Family Assistance Group. In the early days we met once a month to learn about the Department’s recovery. We were never told that the radios worked. We heard those words from the politicians. We were told that the department was working hard to improve the radios. Are they there yet? No! But the current radios are definitely an improvement over the ones in use on 9/11. We learned about the memorial. We had concerns. Sal listened.
We are still very upset that human remains are in the basement of the museum. Sal listened, and with his listening we felt he understood our anguish and pain.
One of the strengths of a great leader is the acknowledgment that someone else besides the leader has good ideas. Sal was always able to let new ideas in. He continues to be humble and gracious and kind. His ability to communicate is superior to most people we know. He cared about the FDNY. It was not a job. It was a calling to make the department better than it was before he took the helm. He was successful. The department is better. We as family members are better. We are stronger.
Sal made sure that all the FDNY families received information that was crucial, something especially important in the beginning years when we were all at such a loss. Coping each new day was difficult for most of us.
We honor Salvatore Cassano tonight because he was the leader that helped us return to our new normal. We are stronger because of him. We are more empowered too. Sal has been a true friend to all of us. We could not think of a better person to end our journey of our annual Dinner Dance than our friend, Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. We honor you tonight, Sal, because you above all have helped us, loved us, given us strength when we needed it most, been available to listen to us and directed us toward healing. You have been our friend through “thick and thin.” We love you!
May we always be friends,
Al & Maureen Santora