“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling."
-Chief Edward F. Croker FDNY circa 1910
Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Robert Miuccio, a Ground Zero hero famed for walking through burning buildings with a cigar in his mouth instead of an air mask, died Thursday of 9/11-related cancer, his family said. He was 76.
"My dad never stopped thinking about the guys in the department," his son, retired firefighter Robert Miuccio Jr., told the Daily News. "When we were at the hospital, he was talking in his sleep. 'Come on boys! We gotta put the fire out.'"
Miuccio, who served with the department for 39 years, died after a two-year battle with lung cancer, officials and family said.
When planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Staten Island firefighter — whose brother Richard, 55, worked on the 86th floor of 2 World Trade Center — grabbed his gear and boarded a ferry headed downtown.
Miuccio's brother perished in the terror attack. He set aside his grief for the next 3½ months as he led firefighters' efforts to recover the remains of the dead.
"They assigned him a section of the pile," said Muccio Jr., 53, who continues to deal with serious health complications from his own 9/11-related illnesses. Hundreds of firefighters worked under his command, his son said.
Miuccio Jr. said his father's trusted leadership and constant composure brought a sense of security to rescuers as they sifted through the devastation.
"Guys would come up to me and say, 'Mucc, I'm so glad your dad's working tonight. Nothing rattles him.'"
His father began his firefighting career at Ladder Company 45 in Inwood and steadily rose up the ranks, one heroic act after another.
Miuccio used to walk down the hallways of burning buildings with no mask and a little cigar. "Come on boys! The fire's down here," he'd tell his colleagues, his son recalled.
Miuccio was promoted a lieutenant at the Ladder Co. 113 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, in 1980, and moved to nearby Ladder Co. 147 in 1990.
He became a battalion chief in 1999 and retired nine years later.
The Staten Island native, who was an Air Force radar and weapons technician during the Vietnam War, fought his last battle with cancer with the same courage and fortitude he used to fight fires, his son said.
"He came out of radiation treatment and was running up and down a basketball court, still coaching at 74," Miuccio Jr. said. "He was living for his children and grandchildren."
Besides Miuccio Jr., Robert Miuccio Sr. is survived by two other children, Michael, 51, and Jacqueline, 48; sister Mary Uris, 71; his daughter-in-law, Christine, 46, and grandchildren Sabrina, 18, and William, 15.
"Battalion Chief Robert Miuccio fought the devil (cancer) like the warrior he was!" wrote John Feal, president of 9/11 victims' advocacy group the Feal Good Foundation. "Collectively the 9/11 community mourns with our Brothers & Sisters in the FDNY."
Miuccio Jr. asked that New Yorkers keep emergency workers still dealing with 9/11-related health complications in their thoughts.
"For so many of us, everything stopped or changed that day," he said. "You move on with your life but for us, you're stuck in 9/11."
Despite the now-evident health hazards of working at Ground Zero, Miuccio said his father would not hesitate to dive back into disaster again.
"He loved taking care of the people of the city. He loved being a fireman. He wouldn't have changed a thing."