FDNY firefighters become gardeners to help fellow Bravest dealing with 9/11-related cancer

A cadre of kindhearted firefighters traded their hoses and axes for shovels and gardening gloves on Monday to help out a fellow Bravest battling 9/11-related cancer.

A group of 25 members of the FDNY from Engine 48/Ladder 56 cleaned the yard around Joe Stach’s suburban home in Valley Cottage, Rockland County, while he received chemotherapy to treat his pancreatic cancer.

“We just wanted to do something nice to help him out. We know he’s been sick and unable to do some work around the house,” said Vinny Esposito, 48, a former FDNY colleague. “The weeds were up to here. The house needed some work.”

The smoke-eaters cleaned gutters and windows, powerwashed the house and planted a bed of purple flowers, the color used by the pancreatic cancer awareness campaign. The Home Depot donated $200 for the flowers.

“This house will be set for spring,” Esposito said.

Stach, 51, retired in 2010 as a lieutenant after 20 years with the FDNY. He spent 72 hours at Ground Zero immediately following 9/11, and worked at the site for weeks. His time there left him suffering from several illnesses in recent years.

In March, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The disease and treatment have prevented him from keeping up with yardwork and landscaping, one of his favorite hobbies, according to his daughter.

“There hadn’t been any flowers here in a while,” said an overwhelmed Corrine Stach, 21, one of Stach’s five children. “Gardening was something Dad loved to do.”

“This is what we do for each other. We are family,” said retired FDNY Lt. Stephen Baker, 77. “We knew he’s sick from being there during 9/11. He’s a great guy, great fireman. Everybody was down there. Either you were at the site or you were at a funeral.

“We felt we had to do something,” he said. “When a guy needs help, we all show up.”

Will Tracy, 58, another FDNY former colleague, said: “We are a brotherhood. This is the last thing he needs to worry about. He needs to worry about getting better and being with his family.”

After a grueling day of chemotherapy, Stach returned home Monday night and was amazed by the hard work of his former colleagues.

“I feel good. This is great. I appreciate all the work you guys did,” he said as he surveyed his front yard. “It looks a whole of a lot better than what I could have done. It pays to know people.”