Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering Ken Marino

Firefighter swung for the fences with family and friends

By Joseph Kellard

Weeks after her husband, Ken Marino, was killed in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, Katrina Marino e-mailed his favorite baseball player, Ken Griffey of the Cincinnati Reds, requesting that he hit a home run for her husband that day.

Griffey followed through not only with this request, but also with his promise to meet Katrina and her two children when the Reds visited New York this summer to play the Mets.

"[Griffey] played ball with the children for a while and he talked to me for a while, and he let the kids climb all over him,” Katrina said about their meeting on Shea Stadium's baseball diamond. “He was great.”

This fulfilled promise was one bright spot for Katrina over the past year, a time that for her has felt, she said, "like a lifetime," and for Mary Ann Marino, Ken's mother, "like one long day that really hasn't ended," she said.

An Oceanside native and firefighter with the elite Rescue 1 in New York City, Marino was among the first firefighters at the World Trade Center after 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11. Before that unthinkable morning, the Marinos, residing in their Monroe, New York home for two years, were awaiting approval of a variance to build a second-floor bedroom for their newborn boy, Tyler. If the variance was approved earlier, Ken would likely have been home on Sept. 11 building the new room.

"He was such a big part of my life and now I don't have him," Katrina lamented.

As a means of coping with her grief, she busied herself by cooking for the volunteer firefighters who did build Tyler's room, and by furnishing and decorating it, all of which took about 4 months.

Marino moved to Long Beach in 1987 and joined the city's fire department, but he always dreamed of becoming a New York City firefighter. That dream was fulfilled three years later, as Marino joined with Rescue 4 in Queens. Standing 6'5", he was known as "Little Ken," and fellow firefighters described him as "a kid at heart." In 1994, he began dating Katrina, a native of Massachusetts, who at the time was a TWA flight attendant living in Long Beach. The couple married three years later, started a family and moved to Monroe.

"If it wasn't for my children, I wouldn't know what to do," Katrina said about her son, now two years old, who responds happily to photos of Ken, and Kristine, 4, who understood early on that her father would never return home again.

In addition to her grandchildren, in whom she sees so much of Ken, Mary Ann said she and her family, daughter Lynda and husband Patrick, have derived a lot of strength from the "tremendous amount of support" from their family, friends and people in their community. "They have seen to it that they were there for us, and at times we didn't realize that we needed them," Mary Ann explained.

While she and Katrina tried counseling, they both found it did little to assist them in their grief. Instead, Katrina talks regularly with another widow whose husband worked and lost his life with Ken. She also consults a woman from Columbia University who conducted a pre-Sept. 11 study of over 200 young families who have lost loved ones.

"I think that to have someone who has numerous experiences with people like me, especially with children, has been very helpful," Katrina said. "She's explained to me the different stages that widows like me go through and she believes I'm right on track."

Mary Ann derives emotional fuel to carry on by remembering Ken's strength of character in hard times and by living out his wishes.

"I know that he would want us to be there for Katrina, and he would definitely want us to be in his children's lives," Mary Ann said. "And keeping that in mind, we know that we somehow have to make a go of this because we would be letting him down if we weren't there for his children."

* This story was originally published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in September 2002.

'The Best of the Best'
Marino remembered for his unmatched passion for firefighting

By Joseph Kellard

If its dimensions could have been quantified, Ken Marino's love for firefighting was an Empire State Building among skyscrapers. His interest in the profession was sparked at the time when young boys begin thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. But for Marino, the interest developed into a passion that he carried into adulthood.

"Ever since I could remember, ever since Kenny was very, very young, he always wanted to be a fireman," said Mary Ann Marino, Ken's mother, during a street dedication ceremony last Saturday in honor of her son, who died while saving people at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

From the corner of Weidner Avenue and Frank Street in Oceanside, where Marino played fireman with his friends, and before some 200 people, including firefighters from the Oceanside, Long Beach and New York City departments, Mary Ann recounted her son's passion for his career.

As soon as he turned 18, Marino joined Hose Co. One in Oceanside, and went on to departments in Long Beach, Mineola, Monroe and New York City. Spending 11 years in the city department, Marino served for the last two with Rescue One Co., an elite FDNY unit. When he joined the city department, Mary Ann and her husband, Pat, were nervous, and asked Ken why he'd want to take on a job that involved the danger of fighting fires in tall buildings.

"He'd say, 'You don't understand,'" Mary Ann told the crowd under a cloudless sky and a large American flag ruffled by a cool breeze. The flag hung above an arch formed by two stately fire engine ladders. "He was right, we didn't understand. And we still don't understand. But what we do understand is the strength, bravery and heroism that was Kenny. … What we also understand is that to be a firefighter is not a job, it's a calling. It's to be a very special person, and that was Kenny -- very, very special."

Anthony Granice, a friend of Marino's when he was growing up on Weidner Avenue, recalled that his friend had never stopped talking about becoming a firefighter since he was 6.

"His firematic skills were second to none," Granice said about the fireman Marino became. "This passion to save lives eventually led Kenny to Rescue One. Not just anyone could be a member of Rescue One. It was an elite unit that requires a unique individual who has excellent physical skills, drive and dedication. Kenny was the best of the best."

"Where do we get such heroes?" Hempstead Councilman Anthony Santino asked. "They come from places like Oceanside, streets like this. Ordinary men and women, growing up in this great country and community, living their lives, learning their lessons, being led on the path of life that leads to tremendous things."

The most important lesson of Sept. 11, said Marino's sister, Lynda, is to remember the tremendous things people like her brother did — namely, "that when disaster strikes, there are people in this world who defy the human instinct to flee and conversely run in the direction of danger in order to help."

Lynda characterized her brother as a valiant, strong, smart, funny and hardworking man who "cared deeply for his family and absolutely loved his job."

While it's painful for her to imagine what he saw and felt while doing that job at the WTC inferno, Lynda continued, "I seek comfort in knowing that he lost his life doing what he loved to do most."

Marino's father, Pat, stood between his wife and daughter and laid a comforting hand on their shoulders throughout the ceremony, as Marino's wife, Katrina, held their son, Tyler, 3, and daughter Kristin, 5, stood close by.

"I truly believe that by remembering and celebrating the lives of [heros like Marino], we weave grief, pain and sorrow into strength, courage and connection," said Supervisor Kate Murray before she lifted Tyler and Kristin to pull the rope and unveil the street sign that reads, "Kenneth J. Marino Avenue."

Granice told the crowd that just as the twin towers should be rebuilt to remind future generations of what originally stood at the WTC site, this sign will remind kids that heroic men have come from the streets where they play.

Katrina said after the ceremony that it held a lot of meaning, having taken place on the street where her husband was raised. "He always bragged about us, so it was great that we got the chance to brag about him," she said.

Marino's mother, who said that holding the ceremony just days before the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks made the memorial more meaningful, implored the crowd to "never forget" 9/11, the bravery of the men and women who ran into the towers to save lives, the innocent people who were killed that day, "and Kenny."

One of Marino's buddies who will never forget him is Frank Corona, an Oceanside native who fights fires with Ladder 119 in Williamsburg. After the ceremony, Corona recalled how Marino exhibited unusual confidence when he played softball in Oceanside, and how he always had a smile on his face and a positive attitude. Corona's fondest memory of Marino, however, is of when Corona was in the fire academy and was having trouble tying knots for rescue procedures, a requirement for becoming a firefighter.

"Ken took the time out of his schedule and invited me over to his house, and he had the whole entire course laid out in his backyard," Corona recalled. "And station by station, he took me and taught me, and he showed me a video. The next day was the test, and I aced it. He gave me the confidence. He was just so into the job. There weren't enough days in the week for the fire department. Even on his off time, he was learning how to be a better fireman. He was an awesome fireman."

* This story was originally published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in September 2003.

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