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Guide to the Ronald R. Spadafora Papers
1911-2018 (bulk, 1970s-2010s)
 MS 3134

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 25, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Ronald R. Spadafora (1954-2018) was a 40 year veteran of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Beginning his career in 1978 as a probationary firefighter, Spadafora was promoted steadily through the ranks, eventually attaining the rank of Assistant Chief (4 stars). Spadafora's career path would lead him to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001, where he was Chief Safety Officer and Incident Commander for the Recovery Operation in 2001-02. He was a prolific author and an adjunct professor in the disciplines of fire science, fire prevention, and other matters related to the profession of firefighting.

Ron, or "Ronnie," Spadafora was born on July 8, 1954 in Ozone Park, Queens, New York and attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. He was athletic, winning track awards and earning a black belt in martial arts, becoming a sensei in Goshin Ryu Jiu-Jitsu in the 1970s. Spadafora graduated from the Queens College campus of the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1977 with a BA in Health Education.

In the mid-1970s, Spadafora worked for Pinkerton Security as an armed patrol officer for the New York Racing Authority. In September 1978, he was hired by the FDNY as a probationary firefighter (also referred to as a "proby" or "probie") after finishing in the first class of 121 candidates selected from the top of New York City's firefighter eligibility list of 7,847 names. He started his firefighting career at Engine 237 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Promotions through three grades of Firefighter came steadily in the next years, followed by promotions to Fire Marshal (1984) and Lieutenant (1986). During these years, Spadafora continued his formal education, graduating in 1982 with a MPS in Criminal Justice from the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University after writing his thesis on "New Technology and Techniques in Arson Investigation." He earned a second Bachelor's degree in 1986, a BS in Fire Science from CUNY's John Jay College.

On the job, Spadafora continued his advancement with promotions to Captain (1989), Battalion Chief (1996), and to Deputy Chief (2000). He also continued through the 1980s and 1990s with extensive in-service education, including on subjects such as hazardous materials, incident command, and emergency response to nuclear, biological, and chemical materials. Given this background, after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Deputy Chief Spadafora was given the responsibility of Chief Site Safety Officer for the Recovery Operation at Ground Zero, from October 2001 until its final day on June 24, 2002. Although that operation closed, WTC/Ground Zero would re-emerge repeatedly through the rest of Spadafora's life. He was a frequent participant and speaker on the subject and lessons learned, including as the committee member representing fire protection, evacuation and structural issues on the WTC Building Code Task Force that led to the WTC Skyscraper Safety Bill of 2004. In 2006, when bone fragments were found in a Con Ed manhole at the WTC site, a new recovery project was initiated; Spadafora, by then a Deputy Assistant Chief and Chief of Logistics for the FDNY, participated in the multi-agency task force which concluded in 2008. Tragically, Spadafora was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2015; he died on June 23, 2018, becoming the 178th member of the FDNY to die of illness related to the 9/11 attack.

Subsequent to the 2001-2002 WTC Recovery Operation, Spadafora was promoted to Deputy Assistant Chief (2 star) and continued as FDNY's Chief of Logistics as part of FDNY's Fire Operations division. In this role, he led the Incident Management Team during New York's black-out of August 2003 and went to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 as Deputy Incident Commander of the New York team sent to assist that city. In 2010 he was promoted to Assistant Chief (3 star) and became Chief of Fire Prevention, a branch of the FDNY that he worked in earlier in his career as a lieutenant. Still, he was called on to help with logistics in 2013 in the face of the enormous impact Hurricane Sandy had on New York.

Spadafora also contributed to the firefighting profession as both a teacher and an author. In 1989 he returned to John Jay College as an adjunct professor of Fire Science, where he remained for about 25 years, until 2013, teaching undergraduate courses such as New Technology in the Fire Service, Fire Safety Administration, Fire Investigations, and Fire Protection Systems. In 2011, Spadafora also began teaching in Metropolitan College of New York's Department of Security, Fire and Emergency Management, with a focus on courses such as Introduction to Homeland Security and Emergency Communications. Beginning in 1995, he was a senior instructor for Fire Technology Incorporated providing in-service training and professional development to FDNY firefighters, including in firematics.

Outside the classroom, Spadafora participated in creating new training initiatives, including new forms of training, such as through the use of web-based platforms and CD/DVDs, and the creation of a "Fire Department High School," which targeted students from Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York as a way of increasing diversity in personnel recruitment. For a short time in the mid-2000s, Spadafora was FDNY's assistant Chief of Training. His efforts were global in reach and included at least three trips to South Africa to conduct training sessions for that country's firefighters' Working on Fire Programme.

As an author, Spadafora wrote over 70 articles for Fire Engineering, Fire and Rescue International, and other professional journals and magazines. Leading the way were the more than 50 articles he wrote for WNYF, FDNY's training publication. Beginning in 1989, Spadafora wrote in WNYF on a range of matters from the technical (construction, green energy, fire prevention) to specific incidents (lightning strikes, construction accidents, etc.) to management concerns (training, incident management). Spadafora also wrote three books: McGraw-Hill's Firefighter Exams (1st edition, 2007; 2nd edition, 2015; 3rd edition, 2018), Sustainable Green Design & Firefighting: A Fire Chief's Perspective (2012), and Fire Protection Equipment and Systems (2015).

(The above note was based on documents from the collection and various on-line sources, especially obituaries and Wikipedia.)