Friends in need

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But as damaging as Sandy’s waters proved to be, they were also the growth medium for a very powerful type of friendship — the kind forged in tough times.

As reporters, photographers and editors, the staff of the Heralds has heard these tales from all quarters (see sidebar). Electricians across Long Island have been added to Christmas card lists in perpetuity. Plumbers are spoken of in terms usually reserved for doctors or first responders: “lifesaver,” “hero” and, increasingly, “friend.”

Joe Kennedy used the word “Herculean” to describe Firriolo’s efforts on his family’s behalf. “I don’t know of anyone who could have come close to pulling this off as you have,” the 50-year-old information technology consultant wrote in a letter praising Firriolo Inc., “and every single friend, neighbor, and contractor I’ve discussed this with … agrees with me.”

Firriolo, a spry 75-year-old general contractor, has known Joe and Carol Kennedy for 19 years, but the storm really cemented their friendship, he said.
“We’ve always been friendly. More than a nod,” Joe Kennedy said, “but we weren’t having dinner every night. It was a little arm’s length. Now we see Fred seven days a week.”

For his part, Firriolo, a contractor with 51 years of experience whose previous large-scale projects included work for Columbia University and the Long Island Jewish Hospital, was initially reticent to take on the Kennedys’ repairs because he didn’t want to jeopardize the cordial acquaintanceship he had enjoyed with his neighbor for two decades.

“I was worried it would affect our relationship,” said Firriolo, “When money gets involved, there can be tension. But it’s been great. We’ve gotten to know each other on a more personal basis, and I hope that continues.”

In addition to his concerns about neighborhood diplomacy, Firriolo admitted that he wasn’t completely confident he could tackle a job as complex as the Kennedys’. In his younger years Firriolo employed 35 workers and took on massive projects. Recently, however, he has downsized to between three and five crewmen and has been circumspect about the contracts he accepts.

“In his history, this would have been a small job,” Kennedy said. “But he’s semi-retired now and he was worried about the size of the project.”

The job’s scope did indeed turn out to be massive. More than two feet of water pooled in the house’s first floor, and the walls had to be removed up to a height of four feet. All the electrical work had to be replaced, as did furniture, electronics and appliances. The Kennedys also decided that rather than simply restoring the house to its pre-Sandy condition, they would open the floor plan and make bold changes to the layout. This meant that in addition to building, interior design and architectural questions needed to be addressed.

“It was like a mid-life crisis for us,” said Joe Kennedy, “only instead of being about age, it was structural.”

While the Kennedys’ house was being reconfigured, Joe and Carol, 49, were going through career changes as well. Inspired by his experiences with Sandy and Irene, Joe is studying to become a flood adjuster. Carol, former operator of the defunct educational toy business Glammatoys in Baldwin, is getting her real estate license.

In the midst of this upheaval, and with two daughters — Lauren, a college student, and Megan, who is in high school at Holy Trinity — fretting in the wings, the Kennedys sought stability wherever they could. It turned out that the most reliable non-family member in their lives at the time was Firriolo, their general contractor, who, they say, spent more time rebuilding their home than his own.

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