Remembering FDNY Father’s Day Fire-June 17, 2001
The relative calm of a quiet Sunday, Father’s Day, June 17th , 2001 was broken at 14:19 hours with a phone call to the FDNY Queens Central Office reporting a fire at 12-22 Astoria Blvd, in the Astoria Section of Queens, New York. For almost 80 years, the Long Island General Supply store has been a fixture in the Long Island City section of Queens serving local contractors and residents with all of their hardware needs. Unfortunately, that included propane tanks and other flammable liquids.
Two structures were involved in this incident. Both buildings were interconnected on the first floors as well as the cellars.
• Both structures were built prior to 1930 of ordinary (Type III) construction, and were two stories in height, each with a full cellar.
• Building 1 measured 2035 square feet and was triangular in shape. • Building 2 measured 1102 square feet and was rectangular in shape.
• Building 1 and Building 2 shared a common or party wall and were interconnected on the first floor and the cellar.
Building to building access in the cellar was through a fire door.
The fire door was blocked open to allow free movement between the cellars which were used for storage.
The hardware stored occupied the first floor and cellars of both buildings. Building 1 had two apartments on the second floor.
Building 2 had an office and storage space on the second floor. Note: A third uninvolved building was attached to the west side of Building 2.
The flat roof system sheathing consisted of 5/8-inch plywood covered by felt paper and rubber roof membrane. The foundation was constructed out of stone and mortar. The support system was a combination of steel masonry posts/lolly columns and wooden support beams.
FDNY Units arrived within 5 minutes of the dispatch and gave the signal for a working fire. Fire fighters were making good progress but at 14:48 hours something went terribly wrong. Witnesses on the scene report hearing a small explosion followed by a huge blast. The shock wave from the blast blew d own every fire fighter on the street and knocked down the exposure 1 wall onto the sidewalk, right on top of fire fighters venting the building.
As members started sifting through the rubble, the chief ordered a second alarm followed almost immediately by a fourth alarm when a radio transmission was received from FF Brian Fahey from Rescue 4. He was in the basement under tons of collapsed material.
“I’m trapped in the basement by the stairs. Come get me.” This was a battle cry to everyone on the scene. Every capable member frantically began removing debris to try and get to Brian and the others. The chief ordered more help. Numerous special calls were made.
There were 144 pieces of apparatus at the scene: 46 engines, 33 ladders, 16 battalion chiefs, 2 deputy chiefs, all 5 rescues, 7 squads, and many more. In fact, with the exception of the fire boats, the JFK hose wagon, the Decon unit, and the thawing units, every type of special unit was at the scene.
Even with the vast resources of the Department, the task took several hours. The members that were on the sidewalk were quickly recovered. • Fire fighters Harry Ford (R4) and John Downing (L163) were removed in traumatic arrest and brought to Elmhurst Hospital were they succumbed from their injuries. • Back at the scene members still were trying to get to Brian while others were trying to put out the smoky fire. The battle went through the afternoon and into the evening. • The fire was being fueled by some of the flammables in the building. • After about four hours they finally reached the basement, but again, it was too late. FDNY Firefighter Brian died in the Line-of-duty.
Subsequent investigations revealed that two local kids were in the rear yard of the building when unbeknownst to them they knocked over a can of gasoline. The gasoline ran under the rear door, into the basement eventually finding an ignition source in the form of the water heater.
When the water heater kicked in, it ignited the gasoline. As fire fighters began working in the building the fire caused the explosion of a large propane tank illegally stored in the basement. The resulting blast leveled the building and caused what will be forever known as the worst Father’s Day in FDNY’s history. (Excerpt of the event description published in www.fdnewyork.com).
The supreme sacrifice was made that day by;
• FDNY Firefighter Harry S. Ford, Rescue Co.4
• FDNY Firefighter Brain D. Fahey, Rescue Co. 4
• FDNY Firefighter John Downing, Ladder Co. 163
Take the time to read the NIOSH Report, and learn the lessons from that event
- NIOSH Report F2001-23, HERE
- FD NEWYORK, HERE
- Steve Spak, Photos, HERE
- The Late, FDNY Firefighter Andy Fredrick’s Account, HERE
- Online Service Accounts and Coverage, HERE