Incident Report: Remembering the Father’s Day Fire

Editor’s note: A five-alarm fire in a hardware store in the Astoria section of Queens, NY, on June 17, 2001, killed three FDNY members – Lieutenant John Downing, Firefighter Brian Fahey and Firefighter Harry Ford – and injured numerous others. There...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

As we got into the store, Ladder 116 arrived. We opened the door to the basement. We had to pass out a piece of plywood with an entire store display of a product that was placed there. There was a case of nails and other hardware supplies. I thought are we in the right store? I didn’t know what staircase to use. I told Chief Seelig about the door on a slope in the rear. Because of a grade, the street sloped down. The basement was in the rear. We knew the fire was near the rear door. The idea was to bring a line to the rear.

The hardware store was closed for Father’s Day. Progress in the rear was very slow. The fire that came out the basement door on the first floor chased the guys from Ladder 116. A blue-green flame blew out the door and sucked back down. You could hear paint cans blowing. Things were going downhill. As soon as they got water we thought they would have it. They were only able to get the exterior door open a few inches when they found another door inside the first door. Some of the firefighters masks on the first floor started to Vibra-Alert.

Chief John Moran from Special Operations came inside twice and then left. Deputy Chief Artie Messbauer arrived on the scene and assumed command. That’s when the building blew up. Shelves with stock blew down on me. I broke my left leg. One of the firefighters was moving past me and I called out to him. He moved the shelves off of me. Three of us crawled down and up to the hole left in the exposure-2 wall when it collapsed. I was removed to the hospital and treated.

As I was about to be released, I was asked to stay until Mary Fahey arrived and was with her when she identified her husband. Having a bad day at work, nothing comes close to this. This was the end of the world for a lot of families. Many firefighters never came back to work. Wives were left to raise their children. After the funeral, everybody goes home. Someone said after 9/11 you were one of the luckiest members of the fire department. If you were fit for duty and home, who knows what might have happened at the Trade Center.

I had been promoted together with Brian Hickey from Rescue 4. We had studied for the battalion chief’s test together. Brian was in my house on the Saturday before 9/11. He was going to work overtime on Tuesday because he was low in overtime. He died working in Rescue 3.

 

FIREFIGHTER

BRIAN KEARNEY

Ladder 117

(now a covering captain)

After responding to a hazmat call first due at a supermarket at 21st Street and 29th Avenue, Astoria, I was talking with Chief Bill Seelig of the 49 Battalion. The chauffeur yelled get on the rig, we have a box. The way we were pointed, Ladder 116 beat us in. There was a little smoke. I took the thermal imaging camera and we went upstairs in the residential portion of the building. There was a light smoke condition upstairs. We thought it was just one apartment. People were up there. I told them they had to leave.

I didn’t smell anything. I was showing the probie what to do. We opened up under the kitchen sink. The boss gave a report. We opened a hole in the wall near the door and it got a little heavier. The lieutenant said open the windows. I placed my tools on the kitchen table. I showed the probie how to open the windows and said we could look like aces instead of breaking them apart. We weren’t really doing anything. We could hear lines being stretched. I thought I heard a Hurst tool. I looked out the window to the exposure-3 side and could see a Hurst tool and our outside vent man in the rear. I said what are they using that for? We were told to go downstairs. Firefighter Pete Brennan came in and left.

The smoke condition now started to get a little heavier. Firefighter Mike Milner from Rescue 4 grabbed the thermal imaging camera. As I was picking up my tools, the officer asked the firefighters operating at the front of the roof to go toward the other side of the building’s roof. I started to walk and noticed the nice parquet floor. The floor started to come up. I didn’t hear anything.

Next thing I know, I went out the window. I lost the camera. One of the firefighters in my company, his father lives down the street. His brother-in-law was watching the fire from across the street and saw me go out the window. He said I was like an ostrich with my head down and my legs in the air. He dug me out and dragged me across the street. The probie hit the wall between both windows. The officer was injured. The six to eight firefighters operating on the front roof had moved to the other side of the roof. They would have been operating right where the roof blew up.