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I have been assigned to a truck company for most of my career in the New York City Fire Department. In 1994, however, I took a detail to drive the Safety Operating Battalion for about a year. My time there was certainly an interesting and eye-opening experience for me. One of the many duties of the Safety Operating Battalion was the investigation of all major apparatus accidents within the FDNY. In the early-morning hours of July 8, 1994, I responded to my first major accident with the Safety Operating Battalion, and that response changed my career and my life forever.
Photo From Author’s collection
The account of this apparatus accident will have a dramatic impact on anyone who reads it, but it should have an even more profound effect on anyone who drives an emergency vehicle.
We responded to the Borough of Queens, to the Flushing section near Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets baseball team, and Flushing Meadows, site of the U.S. Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open tennis tournament is played. The accident involved an FDNY ladder truck responding as the second-due ladder company to what would turn out to be a false alarm, the second such alarm received from that location within a half hour. The time was around 2:30 A.M.
It was determined in a post-crash analysis that the ladder truck had a red light and was going 20 mph as it entered the intersection and struck a small gray sports car that had the green light and was traveling at 30 mph. It was further determined that the ladder truck struck the car on the passenger’s front quarter panel and proceeded to drag the car 77 feet down the street.
As we responded to the scene, all of those thoughts that run through a firefighter’s mind were running through my mind. What might we have? How bad would it be? As we pulled up to the scene, it was a sea of emergency vehicles and we had to park quite far away. As I walked down the street toward the accident vehicles, I could see only the rear of each vehicle. Ironically, the first thing that I noticed on the gray civilian vehicle was a fire department union sticker (Uniformed Firefighters Association of the City of New York) displayed prominently in the rear window.
All of the sudden, my body was overcome with a sick feeling, one of those feelings that puts your guts in a knot. Yes, the fire apparatus, an FDNY ladder truck, had actually hit one of our own people. As I walked closer, it was obvious that we had done some real damage. I quickly learned that two civilians had been transported to the local trauma center in bad shape and that one of the victims, the driver, was the daughter of an FDNY fire marshal, and she would die a few days later.
I have a great belief in God, and I have always believed that things happen for a reason and that everyone on this earth is part of God’s grand plan. I helped complete the investigation, finished my detail at the Safety Operating Battalion and was returned back to the firehouse within a year. Then, I was promoted to lieutenant and a short time later was assigned to my present assignment in the Bronx at Ladder Company 27.
A Twist of Fate
We now roll the clock ahead five years, when the fire department started what it called the “rotation program.” Probationary firefighters would be assigned to a firehouse once they completed probie school, but after their first year, they would rotate to two other firehouses, generally in two different boroughs, to gain valuable experience in different parts of the city before being returned back to their originally assigned company. During this time, we received a rotated firefighter from Ladder 176 in Brooklyn to work a year in Engine Company 46, the engine housed with Ladder 27. His name was Tommy Daly.