Written by Marcella Veneziale Friday, 22 January 2010 00:00
At 5 a. m. Nov. 5, Richard Forenza steered his 18-wheel tractor trailer eastbound on the Long Island Expressway. Suddenly, an SUV cut in front of him. Forenza, 40, lost control of the truck and flipped over on the Expressway. The cab immediately burst into flames.
Forenza, a lifelong resident of the Salisbury section of Westbury, was rushed to Nassau University Firefighters Burn Center at Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) with second and third degree burns covering 85 percent of his body. The next morning, he underwent eight hours of skin graft surgery. He was scheduled for an additional surgery a few days later, but succumbed to his injuries on Nov. 9, before the surgery could take place.
The Westbury community turned out in force for Forenza’s funeral.
“To this day, I just can’t get over how people opened their hearts to help my family, come to the funeral and show respect for him and my family,” said Forenza’s younger brother Christopher. “It was completely overwhelming.”
Childhood friend Greg Young said the wake was standing room only, and that of Forenza’s graduating high school class of 210 classmates, nearly 150 attended. “People traveled from out of state to come to his wake,” Young said. “That gives you an idea of the kind of guy he was.”
Forenza’s sister Kelly recalled neighbors bringing food to her family, and giving her and Christopher rosary beads and a Westbury Fire Department pin at the hospital. “It’s amazing what people will do at that time of need,” she said.
Following Forenza’s death, his brother, along with friends Young and Joe Martin, established the Rich Forenza Memorial Fund and hope for as big a turnout at an upcoming fundraiser in Forenza’s memory. The fund is working with the Nassau County Fire Fighter’s Burn Center Foundation, which benefits the NUMC Burn Center, and has its first fundraiser planned for Jan. 30 at Mulcahy’s Pub in Wantagh. All profits will go to the Burn Center Foundation.
The NUMC Burn Center is currently the only one of its kind in Nassau County. It has an 18-patient capacity, and the staff includes 20 nurses who specialize in burn treatment. Last year it admitted 200 patients and saw more than 1,000 in its outpatient clinic.
Christopher characterized the care his brother received at the NUMC Burn Center as the “best treatment available.”
Paul Napoli, who helped organize the Burn Center Foundation in 1990, and serves as its co-chairman, said fundraisers such as Forenza’s are critical. “Without fundraisers we have no money,” Napoli said. “Without money we can’t help the burn center. They’re very important.”
Amy Pakes, nurse manager at the burn center, described how the foundation helps the center: “They provide equipment for us, education for us, and help us do education in the community with burn prevention,” Pakes said.
Following Forenza’s funeral, Christopher, Young and Martin decided to organize the memorial fund and fundraiser because of how well the staff treated his family and his brother. “They tried to do everything they could, and kept us informed every minute of the way,” Christopher said. “When it’s one of your own, it really hits home.”
He characterized his late brother as a “gentle giant with a perpetual smile” and said, “If you ever met him, you loved him from the minute you met him.”
Young and Martin were friends with Forenza since elementary school and Young said he felt compelled to do something after the accident. “We wanted to take a terrible situation and make some sort of positive out of it,” he said, adding, “I got hurt years ago and he was there for me unconditionally. He’d bring me coffee, bring my mother and father something. He was just there.”
According to Young, the community response to the fundraiser has, so far, been tremendous. “As we’re going around with fliers to promote the event, people look and recognize his face instantly and respond,” he said.
Forenza was well known in the Salisbury-Carman Avenue community. Growing up, he attended Bowling Green Elementary School and was a member of W. Tresper Clarke High School’s Class of 1988. Forenza’s parents still reside in the community as does his younger sister, Kelly.
Like his grandfather and father before him, Forenza was a truck driver. He had aspirations of becoming an owner-operator. “He was definitely proud to be a truck driver, that’s for sure,” Christopher said.
Forenza was also proud to be a volunteer with the Westbury Fire Department. According to Christopher, his brother loved firefighting even as a boy. When he became a volunteer, Christopher remembered being awakened in the middle of the night when his brother’s alarm would ring. He made sure it was always on the highest setting so everyone would know he was going out on a call.
Young and Martin said Forenza’s life in the months before his death was upbeat. He celebrated his 40th birthday in March, surrounded by family and friends. And he had lost nearly 200 pounds with plans to start going to the gym.
Christopher added that his brother’s “confidence level went through the roof. He seemed to be happy.”
Overall, said Martin, Forenza had a “real, true heart of gold.”
To pay tribute to Richard Forenza and benefit the NUMC Burn Center by attending the Jan. 30 fundraiser, contact Greg Young at 244-4632. Tickets are $40 per person in advance or $50 at the door. For more information or to make a donation or purchase tickets online, visit www.richforenzamemorialfund.com.