Thread: FDNY recalls 1978 tragedy
08-03-2003, 08:19 PM #1
FDNY recalls 1978 tragedy
By JOSE MARTINEZ
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Hundreds of people united by tragedy packed a Brooklyn church yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of one of the deadliest days in FDNY history.
The Aug. 2, 1978, fire at a Waldbaum's store in Sheepshead Bay killed six firefighters, who plunged to their deaths when a roof buckled into the flames. They left six young widows and 18 children.
Not far from the site of the supermarket - now a Staples - generations of the dead firefighters' relatives crowded into the Church of St. Brendan in Midwood to commemorate their shared loss.
"They haven't been forgotten," said Caroline Hastings, whose father, Firefighter James McManus, of Ladder 153, was killed. "It's wonderful to see that they never will be."
The Mass drew widows, children and grandchildren from several states, along with retired firefighters who had served with the men at Ladder 153, Battalion 42 and Ladder 156.
Mass stirs memories
"You count the years as they go by, and it just doesn't seem possible that it's been 25 years," said Bill Cooper, 70, who was a chief at Battalion 42 and now lives in Florida.
Firefighters McManus, Harold Hastings, Charles Bouton, George Rice, William O'Connor and Lt. James Cutillo are remembered annually at the Mass and plaques bear their names near the old Waldbaum's and at their firehouses.
"It always comes down to the same question: What are we doing here?" the Rev. Msgr. John Delendick, an FDNY chaplain, said during his homily. "We have to keep their memory alive, we have to keep telling their stories."
Grandpa's bravery retold
William O'Connor, who was 5 years old when his dad died, said he often tells his two kids of their grandfather's bravery.
"She knows the story," said O'Connor, a city cop, as he pointed to his 2-year-old daughter, Lauren.
Harold Hastings' son, Brian, who married McManus' daughter, took his children last week to his dad's old firehouse.
"It was something for them to see their grandpa's plaque up on the wall," he said.
At the time of the disaster, it was the second-deadliest day ever for the Fire Department. The Bravest lost 12 firefighters in a 1966 fire in Manhattan.
The loss of life was dwarfed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center collapsed.
"It pales in comparison now," said Harold Hastings' widow, Caroline. "But just to lose one firefighter is to lose too many."
The deadly blaze led to improvements in construction standards and firefighting gear.
It also led to Eric Jackson-Knight serving nearly 10 years in jail for helping to start the fire - only to have his conviction tossed out by a judge in 1988. At a retrial in 1994, he was acquitted.
No one else was ever charged with setting the blaze.
Originally published on August 3, 2003ALL GAVE SOME BUT SOME GAVE ALL
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08-03-2003, 09:53 PM #2
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Firefighters McManus, Harold Hastings, Charles Bouton, George Rice, William O'Connor and Lt. James Cutillo
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08-03-2003, 11:24 PM #3
25 years. It seems like only yesterday. I had been a firefighter for almost 10 years....and recall hearing the tragic news on the radio.
God bless the families of these brave brothers who died that fateful day. Let us continue to honor our brothers....by remembering their sacrifice.
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08-04-2003, 05:19 PM #4
I was riding a rig in New York that day - I cannot believe it was 25 years ago! They are in my memory again so thanks for the reminder....not that I should need it. God bless them, their families and friends, and all the brave souls who have stepped into their shoes and have served since and are serving now. I will hold my own minutes silence tonight.
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