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Thread: FDNY recalls 1978 tragedy

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    FDNY recalls 1978 tragedy

    FDNY recalls 1978 tragedy


    Hundreds of people united by tragedy packed a Brooklyn church yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of one of the deadliest days in FDNY history.

    The Aug. 2, 1978, fire at a Waldbaum's store in Sheepshead Bay killed six firefighters, who plunged to their deaths when a roof buckled into the flames. They left six young widows and 18 children.

    Not far from the site of the supermarket - now a Staples - generations of the dead firefighters' relatives crowded into the Church of St. Brendan in Midwood to commemorate their shared loss.

    "They haven't been forgotten," said Caroline Hastings, whose father, Firefighter James McManus, of Ladder 153, was killed. "It's wonderful to see that they never will be."

    The Mass drew widows, children and grandchildren from several states, along with retired firefighters who had served with the men at Ladder 153, Battalion 42 and Ladder 156.

    Mass stirs memories

    "You count the years as they go by, and it just doesn't seem possible that it's been 25 years," said Bill Cooper, 70, who was a chief at Battalion 42 and now lives in Florida.

    Firefighters McManus, Harold Hastings, Charles Bouton, George Rice, William O'Connor and Lt. James Cutillo are remembered annually at the Mass and plaques bear their names near the old Waldbaum's and at their firehouses.

    "It always comes down to the same question: What are we doing here?" the Rev. Msgr. John Delendick, an FDNY chaplain, said during his homily. "We have to keep their memory alive, we have to keep telling their stories."

    Grandpa's bravery retold

    William O'Connor, who was 5 years old when his dad died, said he often tells his two kids of their grandfather's bravery.

    "She knows the story," said O'Connor, a city cop, as he pointed to his 2-year-old daughter, Lauren.

    Harold Hastings' son, Brian, who married McManus' daughter, took his children last week to his dad's old firehouse.

    "It was something for them to see their grandpa's plaque up on the wall," he said.

    At the time of the disaster, it was the second-deadliest day ever for the Fire Department. The Bravest lost 12 firefighters in a 1966 fire in Manhattan.

    The loss of life was dwarfed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center collapsed.

    "It pales in comparison now," said Harold Hastings' widow, Caroline. "But just to lose one firefighter is to lose too many."

    The deadly blaze led to improvements in construction standards and firefighting gear.

    It also led to Eric Jackson-Knight serving nearly 10 years in jail for helping to start the fire - only to have his conviction tossed out by a judge in 1988. At a retrial in 1994, he was acquitted.

    No one else was ever charged with setting the blaze.

    Originally published on August 3, 2003

  2. #2
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    Valor of 6 Lost Firefighters Is Celebrated 25 Years Later

    Valor of 6 Lost Firefighters Is Celebrated 25 Years Later


    At the corner of Ocean Avenue and Avenue Y in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, next to a Staples Office Superstore, is a little street sign that says Firemen's Way. Many people who pass by now do not know why it is there.

    But anyone who was in Sheepshead Bay a generation ago, when the Staples was a Waldbaum's supermarket, knows why. On the morning of Aug. 2, 1978, the Waldbaum's caught fire. One alarm sounded, then two. Firefighters were sent to the roof. People came to watch them work.

    A rookie firefighter named William O'Connor waved down at his family. A moment later, when the roof collapsed, it took him and five colleagues to their deaths.

    It was the worst disaster for the Fire Department in a dozen years. Twenty-three years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, the Waldbaum's fire was far surpassed in number of casualties, but the families, friends and colleagues of those who died at Waldbaum's will not forget them.

    Yesterday morning, they filled St. Brendan's Roman Catholic Church on Avenue O, about a mile from the fire, for a Mass to mark the 25th anniversary of the deaths of six brave men.

    Twenty-five years is a long stretch of life. Some of the widows have remarried. Some have died themselves. The man convicted of setting the fire, Eric Jackson-Knight, has long since been released, his conviction overturned after a judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld crucial information.

    And the little children who stood so somberly in their funeral suits 25 years ago now sat in the pews dandling their own children, dressed, like them, in casual weekend clothes.

    A Fire Department chaplain, Msgr. John Delendick, reminded the survivors of their duty to the memories of the fallen.

    He read their names. Lt. James E. Cutillo. Firefighter Charles Bouton. Firefighter Harold F. Hastings. Firefighter James P. McManus. Firefighter George S. Rice. Firefighter William O'Connor.

    And he noted that the job of remembering grows bigger all the time. Not just because the event is growing distant, but because, he noted, the family section at the Mass keeps getting bigger, filling up with people who did not even exist in 1978.

    "We have to keep telling stories to the grandchildren so that the memories of these men may live," Monsignor Delendick said. "And we all have to look into our hearts and make sure the values those men lived are still there

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