Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Two days after the city's fire department held its annual ceremony honoring the heroic acts of its firefighters, a veteran fire captain lost his life on Friday after battling a house fire in Queens.


Vincent Fowler, 47, was injured when he became trapped without oxygen when a floor collapsed on top of him. He's the first firefighter killed in the line of duty this year.

''New York City has experienced a real loss. A tragic loss,'' said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. ''He died because he put his life at risk trying to save other people. He died a hero.''

Five other firefighters, three paramedics and three civilians were also injured in the two-alarm fire Thursday night in the Ozone Park section of Queens. None of the other injuries were life-threatening. Investigators believe an electrical fire started in a rear room.

Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said Fowler saw that part of the house was collapsing and was trying to get the other firefighters out when the debris rained down upon him, trapping him beneath a pile of rubble.

The effort to pull Fowler, a large man, from the narrow basement was further hampered because there was so much junk blocking the way the basement was cluttered with newspapers, magazines and other items.

''These people were really junk collectors,'' Von Essen said at a news conference held at Jamaica Hospital, where Fowler died.

Pinned beneath the rubble, Von Essen said Fowler ran out of oxygen and went into cardiac arrest. As fellow firefighters struggled to get him up the narrow staircase, they shared their own oxygen with him. Several suffered respiratory injuries, he said. ''It was a long time without oxygen to his brain; that's what killed him,'' Von Essen said.
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The most serious injury was to a fire lieutenant who spent the night in the hyperbaric chamber with burns. The lieutenant, who was not immediately identified, was one of those who tried to pull Fowler to safety.

Fowler, a 21-year veteran assigned to Ladder Co. 173 in Howard Beach, had three commendations for bravery. He was married and the father of three daughters.

He comes from a family of firefighters. Fowler is the son of a retired battalion chief and has two brothers who are also firefighters. ''We have tremendous respect for them,'' Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said outside the hospital.

Fowler's death follows Wednesday's Medal Day ceremony, in which the department honored New York's Bravest, as firefighters are called here.

Last December, a fire lieutenant and two firefighters were killed when they were engulfed by a fireball while battling a blaze at a 10-story senior residence near Starrett City in Brooklyn.