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Robert Zito feels that the best way to appreciate the work of the New York City Fire Department is to visit a firehouse and observe the firefighters conducting their training drills.
“If you’re ever in a building and something happens in the building, you know who’s coming to get you,” says Mr. Zito. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
Mr. Zito, 57 years old, and a resident of Tewksbury, N.J., is the founder of Zito Partners, a New York-based brand consultancy firm. He is a board member of the FDNY Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to fire safety education and firefighter training, He is co-chairman of the foundation’s Humanitarian Awards Dinner to be held in New York on Thursday.
He first became involved with the FDNY while an executive vice president of the New York Stock Exchange. During his tenure, Mr. Zito helped to modernize the trading floor pass-the-hat tradition of donating money to the family of deceased firefighters and police officers. Out of that came the NYSE Fallen Heroes Fund.
Then, in the weeks after Sept. 11, the New York Stock Exchange building was open to firefighters and rescue workers working at the site for breaks and meals. Mr. Zito still gets chills when he remembers the faces of the firefighters and police officers who visited.
“I will never, as long as I live, forget the looks on their faces as they would walk into the building,” says Mr. Zito. “You wanted to go up and hug every one of them, both in a thankful way but also in a consoling way… I said to myself that I’m going to do whatever I can for these guys moving forward.”
Mr. Zito has raised millions for the FDNY Foundation. Personally, he’s given more than $100,000 to the foundation, including a recent gift of $7,500. For this year’s dinner he’s helped bring in nearly $250,000, an amount he’s raised annually for the last decade.
Since 1981, the FDNY Foundation has funded fire safety education and CPR classes for the public, the FDNY high school in Brooklyn, and training and equipment for firefighters. Smaller efforts include giving out smoke alarms, about 100,000 batteries for alarms and coloring books for children.
“We assist the department to help meet their financial needs,” says Jean O’Shea, executive director of the FDNY Foundation. While the foundation focused on better training, management and communication activities in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the focus now is on a rebuilt department. “In spite of the horrific events of that day, we’ve grown bigger, stronger, better,” she says.
By MELANIE GRAYCE WEST
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