By Nicholas Rizzi, Ben Fractenberg and Wil Cruz
BROOKLYN — An FDNY lieutenant and married father of two who survived the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11 died Monday while battling a massive blaze at a warehouse complex in in Bushwick, officials said.
Richard Nappi, a 17-year veteran of the fire department, led Brooklyn's Engine 237 into the raging fire at 930 Flushing Ave., between Evergreen and Stanwick avenues, where he became overwhelmed by the intense heat and smoke.
"He was dedicated, brave, committed to the fire rescue," said FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano, who served with Nappi in Manhattan in the late 1990s. "He will be sorely missed by all."
"It's a sad day for the New York City Fire Department."
The inferno erupted in the communications headquarters for American Medical Response, a tenant in the warehouse, on the second floor, officials said. Cardboard boxes and file cabinets smoldered and later escalated to a third-alarm fire, putting the dozens of firefighters battling the blaze in danger.
Nappi, 47, of Farmingville, LI, led his team, which was operating a hose line, into the mezzanine area of the building, but was overcome by the intense heat and smoke and suffered an apparent heart attack, officials said.
"While battling the blaze, Lieutenant Nappi [became] overheated, suffered exhaustion and collapsed," Bloomberg said. "Despite the best efforts of medical personnel, he tragically died."
He is the first firefighter to die in the line of duty in the city since Paul Warhola, who was killed fighting a fire in Williamsburg in 2009.
Eight other firefighters were hurt, officials said. One suffered smoke inhalation, but he was expected to survive. The others were not seriously injured, but were taken to Woodhull Hospital for evaluation.
The stubborn fire at the complex — which is also home to an Office of Emergency Management facility — raged for three hours before finally brought under control just before 4 p.m., FDNY officials said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Cassano said the fire smoldered at first and was kept under relative control for a while by a sprinkler system.
"It was nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "It was being kept under suppression by a sprinkler system."
But the fire continued to burn despite the firefighters' efforts — underscoring the risks involved battling every fire in the city, he stressed.
"It's still dangerous," he said. "That's the hazards of fighting a fire."
Bloomberg said he had the unenviable task of telling Nappi's wife, Mary Anne, that her husband and father of their young children — a 12-year-old daughter, Catherine, and an 11-year-old son, Nicholas — would not be coming home.
"It's very tragic," the mayor said. "There's nothing you can ever say."
"They were in love, lived together, and had kids, and now he's gone," Bloomberg added. "There's nothing you can do to change that."
Before joining the FDNY in October 1994, the Bronx native served as a Suffolk County parole officer and case worker for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.
On 9/11, Nappi, who was with Engine 7 on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan, "responded with valor to the World Trade Center attacks," Bloomberg said.
"In the days that followed, he helped save and rebuild our city in ways that all New Yorkers – in fact, people all over the world – understand," the mayor said.
Afterward, he transferred to Engine 302 in Queens and moved to Engine 237 after being promoted to lieutenant in 2007.
A relative of Nappi's, who asked not to be identified, said Nappi was equally committed to his loved ones and his work.
"He was absolutely 100 percent dedicated to his vocation and a very dedicated husband and father," she said. "The blood running through his veins was the brotherhood."
The relative added that Nappi took care of his father, too, who was a chief of parole for Suffolk County for 41 years and who has been sick lately.
"He came and took care of his dad," the relative added. "He was well loved and well appreciated."
At Engine 237, where the flag flew at half mast, many of Nappi's colleagues said the reality of the tragedy hadn't set in yet.
"It's just too soon," one lieutenant told a reporter.
Nappi, a volunteer firefighter, also paid his firefighting wisdom forward to generations of younger firefighters in the city and in Suffolk County, LI, where he lived as the Deputy Chief Instructor for the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank.
"The only good news is that he trained others," Bloomberg said. "Everything he gave to the Fire Department will continue for generations."
Tom Liddy and Meredith Hoffman contributed to this article.