The Aftermath of a Fatal Apparatus Wreck: Patti’s Story

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...


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Life was going on for the rest of my family. My husband retired from the fire department as a fire marshal. My oldest daughter, Barbara, went through the FBI Academy and is now a Special Agent assigned to the New York Office. My son, Tom, went to the Fire Academy and was now assigned to Ladder 176 in Brooklyn. Patti’s death was tearing me apart. I felt that there must be a bigger plan that I was not aware of. Maybe my son was in the fire department to make a difference. My daughter, Kathleen, attended Fordham University and had a full-time job and is currently a Surveillance Specialist for the FBI in New York City. Life was moving on for three of my children. My fourth and youngest daughter is gone at the young age of 19. Patti will never graduate from college, have a career, get married or have children. We will never share the events she might have accomplished and she will not be there to share ours. We will never see her smiling face or hear her playful laugh or feel her loving touch.

Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of that night when I lost my daughter. I live in the same neighborhood as the fire company that was involved in the accident. I see the truck that hit Patti’s car on a daily basis. In 1999, five years after Patti was killed, my family discovered, through local newspaper coverage, that all 54 firefighters and officers stationed at the Flushing firehouse where the firefighters responsible for Patti’s death worked were being transferred. This rare move was due in part to “poor performance and a lack of discipline there.” (The New York Times, Metro Section, Oct. 27, 1999, page B1.)

We learned that a firefighter assigned to this house was fired in 1997 after it was discovered he was calling in false alarms from a pay phone at the firehouse as part of a plan to further the disability claim of a co-worker. We learned that this firehouse went through a series of seasoned and experienced commanders who complained about how difficult it was to manage their subordinates there. We learned about the deliberate slower response time members of this firehouse took responding to medical calls. How could we not think they were complicit in Patti’s death?

Apparently, questionable activities were going on at this firehouse for years and nothing was done about it. How am I supposed to believe that on the night of the accident the people in that truck followed proper procedures while responding to a false alarm? How am I supposed to believe that safety was the number-one priority at this firehouse if the entire house all the way to the top had not only their integrity questioned, but were transferred to other houses because they could not be trusted to carry out their routine duties in a responsible manner? All these important questions I may never know the answer to, but I can only speculate that my daughter may still be alive today and be celebrating her 30th birthday.

The City of New York settled our case out of court. A law was passed in 1996 called the Patti Daly Law, which makes it a felony (formerly a misdemeanor) if someone calls in a false alarm and a person dies as a result. The woman charged with calling in the false alarm the night Patti was killed spent less than a year in jail.

I only hope that today, more than 10 years later, safety is the number-one priority in all firehouses everywhere so that accidents such as Patti’s can be avoided at all costs. It seems that the current FDNY commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, has a zero-tolerance policy for harmful behavior on or off the job, such as drinking and driving, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Someone told me once that everyone is put on earth for a reason and when they have accomplished what they were put here for, they go home. I feel that in Patti’s short 19 years she must have done so much and touched so many lives. Patricia Ann Daly was a wonderful daughter, sister, friend and person, and no one can ever take that away from her. There will always be emptiness in our lives and our hearts.

I would like to thank the Daly family for their contribution to this month’s column. Drive as if lives depend on it, because they do, and don’t forget to buckle up.

Michael Wilbur will present “Anatomy of a Rollover Accident and How to Prevent Them” at Firehouse World 2005 in San Diego, Jan. 31-Feb. 4.


Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served for the past five years on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He has consulted on a variety of apparatus related issues throughout the country. For further information access his website at www.emergencyvehicleresponse.com.