Fire hero winning battle for life

By MICHELE McPHEE
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

FDNY Lt. Stephen Halliday was the only firefighter seriously injured in 2002.

Halliday, badly burned battling a fire in Queens on Nov. 7, has spent the past 55 days in the hospital fighting for his life.

The flames burned fingers off his left hand, scarred his head and shoulders, even burned him to the bone in some areas of his body.

After six painful surgeries and several close calls, Halliday's wife and two young daughters are grateful that he is alive at all.

"The day he got hurt, I remember begging the doctors, 'Please, just keep him alive and I can deal with anything else,'" Linda Halliday told the Daily News yesterday. "I just didn't want to lose him; we couldn't lose him."

Next week, Halliday is scheduled to leave the burn unit atWeill Cornell Medical Center and enter a rehabilitation facility.

Smoking in bed

The 15-year FDNY veteran was in charge of firefighters at Ladder 165 in Queens when the unit got a call for a house fire on 178th Place in St. Albans. The blaze was started by a careless tenant who ignited his mattress smoking in bed.

Halliday was searching for victims who could have been trapped in the inferno when a burning piece of furniture crashed down on top of him.

As flames covered his bunker gear, Halliday's air was running out. His alarm - signaling that a firefighter was in distress - summoned other firefighters, and the last thing he remembered was being lifted out of the fire.

"I was a breath or two away from not coming out when they came and got me," Halliday said last night from his hospital bed, with his wife and daughters Emily, 11, and Sarah, 10, at his side. "My air was just about out, and my mask had holes in it from the heat when they found me. I can't say enough about the guys at that job."

That day, firefighters frantically cut off Halliday's smoking bunker gear and doused him with water. His gloves, however, could not be removed because they had melted into his skin.

"I was burned. I knew I was badly burned. I didn't have any time left, and the guys plucked me out seconds before it was too late," he added. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here at all."

For now, members of the Halliday family - who live in Babylon, L.I. - have centered their lives around the burn unit, where most FDNY firefighters recover after being injured.

They celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and Sarah's birthday in Halliday's hospital room.

"We're so lucky he's still here," Linda Halliday said. "He's grateful to be here, too."

Originally published on January 1, 2003


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