A fallen hero remembered

September 25, 2012 Editorial Staff
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The community has said good-bye to a real hero.

Michael Behette, a firefighter assigned to Ladder 172 in Bensonhurst until his 2002 retirement, died on Monday, September 17, of lung cancer that his family and friends believe he contracted from direct exposure to World Trade Center toxins.

His story is remarkable. The day of the attack, Behette was vacationing in Florida. When he heard that the twin towers had been hit by hijacked planes, he attempted to book a flight home. Unable to fly to New York, the Dyker Heights resident rented a car and, getting speeding tickets on his way, he drove until he reached his destination: the wrecked scene at Ground Zero. He worked 31 days afterwards, digging up and cleaning debris and continued working at the scene for six continuous months, searching desperately for his missing colleagues.

“He had to be there. He had a sense of duty,” said Barbara Pagano, a friend of Behette since they were 13 years old.

“It was a dream come true for Mikey to become a firefighter,” added Tony Behette, 54, Michael’s younger brother. “I’ve always been so proud of him. That’s all he ever wanted to do.”

Tony continued, “I used to tell him, learn from all the angles, Mikey, know the routine, and if you’re taught well, you’ll have less of a chance of getting hurt.”

Behette — who never smoked – received his diagnosis in February 2011 and spent some time in Memorial Sloan-Kettering receiving extensive treatments. Later, he was transferred to Calvary Hospice, on the third floor of Lutheran Medical Center, after the cancer had metastasized.

Everyone who knew him had extraordinary memories of him.

“He was a blessing to everyone,” remarked his mother, Madeleine. She spoke of the unique relationship Behette had with his three nieces and two nephews. “He was an amazing uncle, a thoughtful guy with a big heart.” He would give them anything they wanted, Marguerite, Michael’s sister said.

Behette was always serving, for the FDNY or elsewhere. “As long as I make everybody happy,” was what he used to say.

Paul Collica, who worked with him at Ladder 172 beginning in 1985, recalled, “He was a really good firefighter, he was strong, and he was big. He was just a good friend who was there when you needed him.” Collica spoke of how Behette climbed up the ladder during a blaze and with one hand pulled out a woman through a window, bringing her to safety. “He would put others first,” he added.

“I just feel there are special people who come into your life, and need to be recognized,” said Lorraine McDonald, Pagano’s sister and a nurse for 21 years at Lutheran. McDonald spoke fondly of Behette, comparing him to Steven Siller, a young firefighter who gave his life to save others on September 11, 2001.

“He did it in his own way,” stated McDonald, “He had to go help. Such dedication.

“Even when he was sick, he got very attached to a little boy that was there. It didn’t matter what he was going through,” McDonald remembered. “He was a really good guy, humble.”

McDonald and Pagano said that when Behette was awarded medals and pins for his courageous service, “He didn’t want to wear them.

“We will never forget the sacrifice that these people made,” Pagano stressed. “People are still dying 11 years later. He’ll be missed.”

“He had a lot of love to give,” added his mother. “He was just wonderful; there will never be another Michael.”

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