Nearly one month after construction worker Joe Barone fell into what firefighters called a “hell hole” on the Second Avenue subway construction site, he paid a visit to the first responders who saved his life.
“You did a hell of a job,” the 51-year old Lyndhurst, N.J., man said to a group of fire chiefs, paramedics and emergency medical personnel who’d gathered to greet him for lunch at Engine 53/Ladder 43 in East Harlem Tuesday.
“I wasn’t gonna leave there without you,” said paramedic Syndie Molina, who spent hours talking to Barone and trying to keep him calm while he was trapped in a frigid pile of mud on March 19.
That was the night Barone was working on the subway construction site at 95th Street when some wooden planks gave way, sending the veteran contractor plummeting into the murky sludge down below.
“I’ve never been in quicksand,” said firefighter Jimmy McEntee, one of the first to reach Barone. “I’m sure it was like quicksand. It was a tough fight.”
So tough, in fact, the FDNY lowered Chaplain Stephen Harding into the hole to share some prayers with the shivering Barone. Harding insists he was not there anticipating a worst-case scenario, but instead to lift Barone's spirits.
“It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t get you out,” Harding said to an emotional Barone across the wooden table in the firehouse kitchen. “But after three and a half hours, I figured you were lonely.”
Barone, choking back tears, managed a big laugh. “It was dark, I didn’t know anybody was in there — sorry, Father." He gestured up to the ceiling. "I wasn’t ready to go see the man.”
Rescuers used a Con Edison industrial vacuum, pulleys and plywood to get him out. FDNY Battalion Chief Donald Hayde said at the time it was "the most difficult, technical rescue operation" he had been involved in in his 36 years with the fire department.
FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said "it took some of our top people in our special operations command with vast amount of knowledge and technical rescue to put all those skills into play."
Barone was treated for relatively minor injuries and has been recovering at home for the past few weeks. The 30-year construction veteran vows to return to work, but not necessarily on the subway project.
“I’ll be a nervous wreck,” said his wife, Candy. “I can’t have him down there. I can’t.”
The nearly $5 billion Second Avenue subway project is due for completion in 2016.