By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Such was Firefighter Michael Behette’s dedication to duty that when the Sept. 11 attacks took place he drove all the way from Florida, where he was on vacation, to New York to help with the recover effort at Ground Zero. He couldn’t get a flight because all of the airlines had been grounded, so he decided to rent a car. He drove 24 hours straight until he reached New York.
Behette, who was assigned to Ladder 172 in Bensonhurst, spent many months working on “the pile,” as the World Trade Center site was called. In 2011, 10 years after the attacks, Behette, who had never smoked a cigarette in his life, was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said the illness was directly related to his exposure to the toxic air all those months working on the pile at Ground Zero. The air was filled with dust from the pulverized buildings, Gentile said.
Behette died on Sept. 17, 2012 at age 55.
On May 17, hundreds of people gathered at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 85th Street in Bay Ridge for a ceremony marking the official re-naming of the corner “Michael G. Behette 9/11 Memorial Way.” Behette’s mother Madeline, his brother Anthony, and his sister Marguerite were on hand to see the posthumous tribute.
Outgoing Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano and dozens of firefighters came to see the unveiling of the new street sign.
News 12 Brooklyn reported that Behette grew up on the street where the new sign is located and that his mother still lives there.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn), Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Coney Island-Bay Ridge) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) also attended the ceremony.
Gentile, who sponsored the legislation that paved the way for the name change, called Behette a true hero.
“When one talks about heroes, you have to pause and consider whether we speak of a contemporary icon that is a hero for the moment in sports or in the media but is soon forgotten in favor of another temporary hero. Yet today we speak of a real hero, a hero we knew as Michael Behette who because of his demeanor, character and accomplishments will be as much of a hero years down the road as he is to us today,” Gentile said.
“Coincidentally, but somewhat poetically, this past Thursday we saw the opening of an ambitious 9/11 museum at Ground Zero. It seems appropriate then that we gather today, a few days after the National September 11th Memorial Museum was dedicated, in order to honor a local hero who gave his life as a result of his work at Ground Zero in the wake of Sept. 11,” Gentile said.
Behette served as a firefighter for more than 20 years and received multiple medals and commendations for various rescues and operations during his career.
“Michael Behette gave his life for his city, his country, his family and his friends,” Gentile said.