City Mourns FDNY 'Rising Star:' Battalion Chief Killed in Explosion

SI Advance - September 29, 2016

by Thomas Checchi

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The city will pay its respects to the fallen battalion chief who had been considered a rising star in the FDNY.

All flags shall be flown at half-staff "immediately and from sunrise to sunset until interment" of Michael Fahy, a 17-year Fire Department veteran and father of three, who was directing operations from the street when he was hit by falling debris, the mayor said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio issued the order Tuesday afternoon.

It includes all flags -- the New York state and City flags, and the POW-MIA flag on all City buildings, as well as stationary flagstaffs throughout the five boroughs.

Fahy, who was promoted to chief in June 2012, had a doctorate from New York Law School. He got his undergraduate degree from New York's Binghamton University in 1994 and his master's degree at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security's Naval Postgraduate School, according to education records.

'ULTIMATE SACRIFICE'

The firefighter was fatally wounded Tuesday when a row house exploded as he was supervising an evacuation following a report of a gas leak, and authorities are looking into whether the building was being used to grow marijuana.

The two-story house and adjoining homes in the Bronx had already been emptied of occupants and fire personnel had been on the scene for an hour when the 7:30 a.m. blast jolted neighbors awake, tore off the building's roof and hurled pieces of wood and brick into the street.

Michael Fahy, a 17-year fire department veteran and father of three, was directing operations from the street when he was hit by falling debris, authorities said.

"We -- (FDNY) Commissioner Nigro, (NYPD) Commissioner O'Neill and I, spent time with his wife and with his parents here at the hospital and saw the unspeakable pain when they were told formally they had lost Michael," the mayor said. "It is a reminder of the dangers that our first responders face every day, the dangers that the men and women of the FDNY face and the bravery with which they do their job. ... A family that has given so much and today made the ultimate sacrifice to this city."

"It is a reminder of the dangers that our first responders face every day, the dangers that the men and women of the FDNY face and the bravery with which they do their job," de Blasio said after meeting with Fahy's family at a hospital.

Authorities said firefighters had gone to a two-story private house to investigate a report of a gas leak and called police when they discovered what they believed to be a drug lab.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that about two weeks ago police had received information about possible drug activity on the block. Part of the investigation into the explosion will include a probe of whether the home was a marijuana "grow house," he said.

The cause of the blast hadn't been determined. The force of the blast moved mugs in a cabinet several houses away, said resident Mary Lahti, who also had dust covering her furniture.

'HE WAS ON THE RISE'

"He was on the rise; he was a star," fire Commissioner Nigro said.

The commissioner said he was a contemporary of Fahy's father, who had been a fire chief before his son.

Residents milled around in the aftermath: Debris strewn on the street and covering parked cars; the former house a mangled heap of walls, wiring and twisted metal. Authorities said the house had renters, and they were looking into who they were.

"The explosion felt like a bomb on my house," said Nicholas Kolotouros, who lives across the street. "We got scared, and we jumped out of bed. We didn't know what it was."

Within minutes, police told him to leave his house, one of a lineup of two-story homes on a tree-lined street.

Lahti woke up around 6:30 a.m. "smelling something odd, but I wasn't sure what it was," she said. "It didn't smell like gas, really."

She went back to sleep. The explosion woke her up an hour later.

"I thought it was a car that ran into the house, the way the house shook," she said. "I was jolted out of bed."

When she looked out the window, she said, "it was a lot of smoke, a lot of smoke." Hours later, occasional whiffs of smoke still floated over the neighborhood.

(Associated Press material was used in this report.)