A Firefighter, 'Great Father' and Cool Coach

November 4, 2001

On his first day with Rescue Co.4 five years ago, Billy Mahoney helped his company drag an unconscious woman out of a blazing apartment in Woodside and then watched the firefighters erupt into a fistfight and food fight in the Queens firehouse kitchen minutes later. He took in the mingled stink of blood, smoke and flour and grinned at his new colleagues.

"I think I'm going to like it here," Mahoney said.

A Lakeland volunteer firefighter who once was mischievous enough to lob a meatball at the face of an angry chief, the 38-year-old Ronkonkoma resident was a loving father of four whose loss is also mourned by the Connetquot Youth Association, where he coached 11-year-old baseball players.

The body of the 15-year city fire department veteran was recovered last week in the rubble of the World Trade Center. A funeral Mass for him will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph's Church of Ronkonkoma after family visiting hours Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Moloney Lake Funeral Home in Ronkonkoma.

"He adored me and I adored him, and he was a great father," Mahoney's wife, Donna, said, remembering how he loved to play ball with sons, Billy, 12, and Joseph, 9, and to tease his daughters, Denise, 15, and Shannon, 14.

Mahoney was a former New York City police scuba diver who continued to use his skills with the fire department and with the recovery effort after the TWA Flight 800 crash. "He was part fish," said Rescue Co. 4 Lt. Tim Kelly.

He also loved to use those scuba skills in his free time on spearfishing trips in Long Island Sound with Ray Smith, a Rescue Co. 2 firefighter who had been close to him since they were both teen members of Lakeland Junior Fire Department.

Mahoney was as naturally gifted at baseball as he was fighting fires, Smith recalled, and more than once won the prize for the longest drive at charity golf outings.

"It seemed to be an innate ability with him," Smith said. "I always felt I had to try a little harder, and look at things, but he just did it all naturally ... almost effortlessly."

When a firehouse argument got too hot, Mahoney would cut the tension by smashing a plate between the combatants.

But with his closest friends he'd rather talk about plans for his kids and about his favorite books. One of those was "Tuesdays With Morrie," the bestselling account of a dying professor's wisdom.

As a coach, Mahoney was known for his compassion with the kids. He wasn't one of those screaming Little League coaches, friends recall; he preferred the quiet approach, taking a kid aside and giving him a confidence boost and some inspiration.

The kids repaid him with trust and respect. And next spring the youth association plans to install a memorial boulder and dedicate one of the fields at Ronkonkoma's Duffield Elementary School in memory of Billy Mahoney.

-- Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)