NEW YORK - Irene Maiello and her late husband — FDNY Lt. Joseph Maiello — were supporters of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. She'd run the 5K several times and he'd served as a sideline banner holder.
Then last December, Joseph died while on duty at his firehouse on Staten Island — and Maiello's family went from being supporters of the foundation to beneficiaries.
"He had this really infectious laugh and he would just go into hysterics at times," Irene told FOX 5 NY. "He was always joking or something they did at the firehouse with his friends."
Those who knew Joseph say he was the heart and soul of his firehouse — or any firehouse for that matter. But to Irene, he was just Joe — the guy she met on a blind date 23 years ago.
"On a group date with four other couples, so it was quite, yes, uncomfortable," she said. "And so the whole date, he didn't talk to me at all."
Irene said she told her friend she didn't know what to think of Joe because he didn't speak to her.
"So the next day he did call — and after that, you know," Irene said with a laugh.
FDNY Lt. Joseph Maiello (center) and members of his firehouse. (Handout Photo)
After that? They married three years later and eventually became parents to Jake and Cecilia.
However, Joe's home away from home was always the firehouse.
Joe spent 22 years with the FDNY with tours in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, where he landed after being promoted to lieutenant in February 2020.
The morning of Dec. 26, 2021, Joe was on duty at the firehouse when he was found unconscious and unresponsive. He was pronounced dead a short time later. He was only 53.
Ladder 83 in Westerleigh lovingly dedicated its truck in Joe's honor. Irene said that hearing the sirens is sometimes tough because she knows the truck bears his name but she also remembers the firehouse is where he was when he died.
In July, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation contacted Irene to tell her the foundation would pay off the mortgage on her Staten Island home so that she and her children would have financial security.
Irene has actually run the Tunnel to Towers New York City 5K Run and Walk six times, and Joe had volunteered as a banner holder, cheering her on from the side of the course.
On Sunday Sept. 25, she will be back at the 5K with Joe there in spirit.
"When you come out of the tunnel, you see all these first responders in their Class As [uniforms], they're holding the flags of all those we lost," Irene said. "It's just amazing, amazing feeling to see all these people going to one point for one purpose — to honor 9/11, to honor all the people who passed and perished that day."
Statement by Irene Maiello on Tunnel to Towers Foundation
One of my favorite events each year is participating in the New York City Tunnel to Towers race. For years I have supported and admired what the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has been able to accomplish. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday, and was grateful that my boyfriend at the time, Firefighter Joe Maiello, was one of the lucky ones who made it back home unlike Firefighter Steven Siller and so many others who did not. I never thought that my family would be on the receiving end of these efforts. I was at a loss for words and stunned when I found out that the Tunnel to Towers Foundation would be paying our mortgage. My children and I would do anything to have Joe back, but this grand gesture takes a financial burden off our shoulders and we are forever grateful. Thank you. —Irene Maiello