A Friend to Firefighters

Nancy Carbone was one of thousands of New Yorkers who flooded into their neighborhood New York City firehouses on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, offering to help in any way they could.

Over time, most of those people left.

Carbone stuck around.

Today, the Brooklyn wife and mother of two runs Friends of Firefighters, a nonprofit counseling center that counsels and cares for New York City firefighters.

On Sept. 11, Carbone said, she watched one neighbor after another walk into her local firehouse in Brooklyn with checks in their hands.

"I told [the firefighters,] 'I don't have any money, so I can't give you any money. Why don't you give me something else to do?'" she said.

Firefighter John Sorrentino remembers the day he met Carbone.

"It was absolutely crazy," he said. "There were a million things going on."

"She came up to me -- total stranger -- and said, 'Is there anything I can do to help?' I said, 'Yeah, you wanna help? We need a bugler to play 'Taps' for a funeral.'"

"She found one for us," Sorrentino said.

"Taps," also known as "Butterfield's Lullaby," was written in 1862 by a Civil War Union general named Daniel Butterfield.

It's traditionally played on a bugle, at a distance of 30 yards to 50 yards away from the service.

"I found the bugler behind a tree," Carbone said, still amazed. "I waited till everything was over and kind of ambushed him. I didn't have a pen. He had a marker, so I took it and wrote his number on my arm."

From there the assignments continued.

"We need doves."

"We need bunting for a memorial service."

"We need therapists."

She said she went to funerals "almost every day for as long as I can remember."

Over time, the wounded, overwhelmed men and women of the New York City Fire Department came to trust and rely on Carbone's desire to help.

"Basically, it was a tremendous leap of faith on their part. I'm just a civilian that came to their firehouse," Carbone said, referring to the Middagh Street firehouse in Brooklyn. "I took that very seriously. I took that to mean they expected something of me, and I wasn't going to let them down."

Word of Carbone's straight talk, sincerity, and near constant presence among the firefighters spread.

"I can say I have never met anyone who so sincerely wanted to help, no strings attached," Sorrentino said. "And she proved herself over and over."

She understood the nature of the bond between firefighters, and respected their privacy, he said.

"We're a close-knit brotherhood-type organization, and she knows exactly when to come in [to the firehouse] and do her thing and knows when to leave," he said. "She never sticks her nose where it doesn't belong. When you ask her for advice, she gave you exactly what you needed."

She was invited to one house after another to help out.

Her respect for firefighters and the work they do is infectious.

"They make life-and-death decisions every day," she said. "At any time they could be going to the big one and that could be it. They need the firehouse to be their focus. They need the camaraderie, because that keeps them alive."

She said that over time she had been privileged to be considered a true friend.

Soon she became a well-known presence in firehouses across the city, firefighters who have benefited from Carbone's work said to ABC News.

"God bless her," said Capt. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, a union of 2,500 FDNY superior officers.

"We need more people like her."

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