Thomas DeFrancisci, of Bellmore, ran when someone needed help. As a member — and eventual honorary chief — of Bellmore-Merrick Emergency Medical Services, he ran through snow to avoid traffic lights on local medical calls. And in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he made his way to the pile of debris that was once the twin towers to search for survivors, inhaling dust laden with jet fuel and asbestos.
On April 12, at the age of 61, he died, having lived with carcinoid cancer for 11 years. He was one of the thousands of volunteers — 19 of whom joined him from Bellmore-Merrick EMS — who sifted through the rubble.
Family and friends flooded the St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church in Bellmore on Tuesday, with the EMS leading the procession. A massive flag, hoisted by the Bellmore and Merrick fire department trucks, waved over Bedford Avenue.
Scott Resnik, chief of the EMS, described DeFrancisci as an amazing and selfless man. "Tom, just like every other first responder, served selflessly," he said. "Even in his darkest moments he would always think about his family, friends and the company first." The two worked together at ground zero in 2001.
“Tom was the most cheerful, brave and decent person I’ve ever met,” said Charles LoCascio, DeFrancisci’s brother-in-law, on Tuesday.
“He was a sweetheart,” added his brother John DeFrancisci. “He was amazing and never complained — he always cared more about other people.”
“He was wealthy and generous in all of the important ways,” said his brother Joseph DeFrancisci. “Everyone that knew him knows that he would always ask about you; that he was completely selfless. We’re joyful for the years of memories.”
DeFrancisci was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer of the lung — a rare place for a neuroendocrine tumor to grow — in 2008. In 2009 he underwent surgery to remove the tumor, later recalling to the Herald in 2017 the sight of other cancer patients smoking in the cold outside the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
He was enrolled in the WTC Health Program, along with 79,906 other first responders and civilians, who continue to live with the toxic remnants of September 2001. The World Trade Center Health Program diagnosed DeFrancisci, Resnik and their friend Kevin Kelly with 9/11-related diseases.
Resnik recovered fully, overcoming kidney cancer, and last year he presented DeFrancisci with the title of honorary chief of the EMS. Kelly died in 2015 of severe respiratory illness. He was posthumously recognized as the first honorary chief.
DeFrancisci was the son of Rita and the late Joseph. He is survived by his wife, Rosemary; daughters Lucy Quartararo (Michael) and Laura Pena (Alberto); son John; granddaughter Clara Marie Quartararo; brothers Joseph and John (Fran Latino), and sister Mary Anne Wieser (Scott).
Brian Stieglitz and Scott Brinton contributed to this story.