Using a radio scanner and his bicycle, a 12-year-old Daniel Brethel was almost always the first at the scene of a fire. Eventually his parents told him to cool it, worried that people would become suspicious that the boy was starting the fires himself.
That was one of several stories told on Vincent Drive in East Meadow last Saturday, where a tight-knit group of neighbors reunited for a special weekend that began with a street rededication ceremony in honor of Brethel, a New York City firefighter who perished eight years ago in the World Trade Center attacks.
Dozens of family members and friends, young and old, joined elected officials and firefighters at the corner of Vincent Drive and Front Street to unveil an honorary street sign that read Capt. Daniel J. Brethel Dr.
For Loretta Brethel Feret, who now owns the Vincent Drive home in which shegrew up with brother Daniel and three other siblings, the sign will serve as a pleasant reminder of her lost loved one. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Daniel,” Feret said. “Now, each time I look up at the street sign, I’ll smile.”
Brethel, who lived in Farmingville with his wife, Carol, and two daughters, Kristin and Meghan, was finishing his shift as captain at Ladder Company No. 24 in midtown Manhattan as the events of 9/11 began to unfold. The 43-year-old never made it home. He is believed to have grabbed a fellow firefighters as one of the towers collapsed and dived under a truck, where the two were crushed.
Protecting a colleague would not have been out of character for Brethel. His brother David recalled a day in Daniel’s early years as a city firefighter when he came home with severe burns on his neck and ears. Called to a fire, Daniel had removed his helmet and used it to shield an injured firefighter until medical personnel arrived.
“Daniel had two families, his firefighters and his personal family,” David Brethel said. “He was clearly a husband and father first. His wide smile would only widen when he spoke about his family.”
Brethel’s path to becoming a firefighter began when he was a child. His siblings recalled 4-year-old Daniel sporting a red helmet and playing with fire trucks on Christmas morning. As a pre-teen working his first job, a newspaper route, he saved enough money to buy a police scanner, and that was when he began chasing — and often beating — fire trucks to the scenes of fires on his bike.
The day he turned 18, Daniel marched straight the East Meadow Fire Department to become a volunteer. At 21 he became a New York City firefighter. David remembered Daniel requesting one of the busiest parts of the city to begin his FDNY career. “The South Bronx was where he wanted to be,” David said.
Daniel served 10 years as a volunteer with the East Meadow Fire Department before settling in Farmingville with Carol, whom he met while working in a local Sears. In the FDNY, he studied and worked his way up to captain in Ladder 24.
“Danny successfully meshed his dreams with the real world,” said another brother, Bill, who now lives in Ohio but comes back to visit at least twice a year.
The afternoon ceremony featured opening remarks from Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Councilman Gary Hudes and county Legislator Norma Gonsalves, followed by comments by Daniel’s siblings. All four — David, Bill, Loretta and Elizabeth “Betty” Domino — and their father, David, stood together to unveil the commemorative red street sign.