2015-05-06 / Front Page

Our Bravest

By Liz Goff

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the FDNY with visits to the Long Island City, Blissville and Woodside station houses. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the FDNY with visits to the Long Island City, Blissville and Woodside station houses. Firehouses throughout New York City opened their doors to the public on May 2, in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the FDNY.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the FDNY by visiting Engine 258/Ladder 115 in Long Island City, Engine 259/Ladder 128 in Blissville and Engine 325/Ladder 163 in Woodside. During his tour, Van Bramer thanked New York City’s Bravest for their service and dedication to protecting the residents of the 26th District.

Firehouses in Queens are seldom closed to the public. Ask anyone who has ever needed help - people lost in the dark in an unfamiliar neighborhood, stuck with car trouble, or frightened kids who trust the men in the “big red rigs.”

When firefighters finish pulling people and pets from burning buildings they head back into the danger, breathing the smoke and flames that endangered the victim’s loves.

The city’s first fire unit, Engine Co. 1, started battling blazes in August 1865, just months after the state legislature created the Metropolitan Fire Department to protect the loves of New Yorkers.

According to recently released FDNY statistics, New York City firefighters rescued and saved the lives of 50,768 civilians as of 2014, including 39,455 from stalled or smoke filled elevators, 202 people pulled from waterways or deadly carbon monoxide, 364 people pulled from motor vehicle crashes and 310 pulled from building fires.

The FDNY suffered 1,143 losses in its 150-year history, including the 343 fathers and sons who ran into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the department’s darkest day.

Looking back at the losses suffered by fire units in Queens, the Gazette recalls the names of Firefighter Peter McMahon, who lost his life when he was buried beneath the flaming debris from a catwalk that collapsed during a blaze at an apartment building on 36th Avenue in Long Island City and Firefighters Harry Ford, John Downing and Brian Fahey, who perished when a chemical-fueled explosion sparked a five-alarm inferno at the site of an Astoria hardware store on a tragic Father’s Day in 2001. 

The explosion at Long Island Hardware, located at the corner of 14th Street and Astoria Boulevard rocked the neighborhood and changed forever the lives of eight children left fatherless that Sunday afternoon.

Firefighter Ford, 50, and Fahey, 46, of Rescue Co, 4 and Downing, 40, of Ladder Co. 163 were among dozens of firefighters who responded to the blaze that started in the basement of the hardware store.

The intensity of the blaze caused the building to buckle and set off the explosion that blew firefighters out into the street, raining fiery hot bricks and rubble over the men.

Ford and Downing were buried alive as they stood battling the blaze outside the building, while desperately trying to pry open basement windows to reach Fahey, who was on the first floor of the hardware store when the building exploded.

The force of the blast sucked Fahey down to the basement, where he made a frantic radio call for help screaming, “Mayday, Mayday…Come get me,”” in the moments before he was silenced by the intense heat and smoke-fed blackness.

As with so many tragedies, one miracle occurred in the aftermath of the Father’s Dau tragedy when rescuers pulled Firefighter Joseph Vosilla from the rubble.

Vosilla, who was assigned to now-shuttered Engine Co. 261, suffered severe, massive internal injuries that led doctors to doubt his chances of survival.

Vosilla fought a long, hard battle to recover from his injuries, but was initially unable to walk. The determined Astoria native never gave up, and on Easter Sunday, 2002, he took some first steps from his wheelchair to a round of applause from the press, who dubbed his accomplishment an “Easter Miracle.”

The family of Firefighter Christopher Santora kept vigil around the family’s dining room table on the evening of September 11, 2001, praying and waiting for a phone call from the young Astoria native who lost his life in the World Trade Center attacks.

The Santora family was just one of 343 families who waited for a phone call or message from their loved ones. The only messages from the fallen firefighters were the “beeping” sounds of alarms worn by fallen firefighters, sad, constant reminders that pierced through the rubble at the Twin Towers.

A photo widely published in the days following the September 11 attacks perhaps best depicts the personal tragedy suffered by firefighters on that day.

The photo captured an image of clothing, strewn by firefighters from the FDNY Hazardous Materials (Haz Mat) 1 and Squad 288, as they raced from their Maspeth firehouse to the Twin Towers. Nineteen of those men never made it back to their firehouse on September 11. The combined loss of life left 51 children, ranging in age from 2-weeks to 17-years-old, fatherless. It was the greatest loss suffered by any fire company in New York City on September 11.

Firefighters hosting the May 2 anniversary celebration gave tips to the public on fire safety, advice to those interested in joining the FDNY, they distributed keepsake Anniversary Programs, plastic fire helmets and coloring books for kids and carbon monoxide detectors for their parents.

We can show our appreciation, not be treating firefighters like sideshow attractions, but by remembering they are fathers, sons and mothers who battle our blazes and rescue us from unthinkable circumstances. People who just want to make it back home to their families at the end of their day.

Happy Anniversary FDNY, may you stay safe in your service to the family of Queens.

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