A New York City firefighter who died in the line of duty in the Bronx yesterday morning has been named as 44-year-old Battalion Chief Michael J. Fahy.
The 17-year veteran was among the first to arrive at a house in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx after a report of a possible gas leak. The area was being evacuated when the house exploded, killing Fahy and injuring up to 20 others. As of Tuesday afternoon, police had taken a "person of interest" into custody in New Jersey for questioning in the case.
The second-generation firefighter, battalion chief of the 19th division, was rushed to the nearby New York Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Hospital but doctors were unable to save him.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro described the married father of three as “on the rise. He was a star.”
"It's a sad day. Thankfully, this doesn't happen every day, but when it does, it doesn't make it any easier. That's all I can say. We lost a hero today and our members are saddened," said a visibly shaken Nigro, who also knew the victim’s father Tom Fahy. Fahy Sr. had served with the FDNY for 33 years until his retirement in 2001 and was present at the hospital, along with his wife and daughter-in-law, when his son’s death was confirmed.
“(We) saw the unspeakable pain when they were told formally they had lost Michael. 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,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday morning during a press conference at the scene.
Fahy leaves behind his wife Fiona and three children—two sons and a daughter—aged between six and eleven years old. De Blasio described the battalion chief as “ a very devoted father.”
Fahy and his crew arrived at a private two-storey house at 304 W. 234th St, near Tibbett Ave, around 6.22am on Tuesday to investigate a possible gas leak.
During the course of their investigation, local media report that a drug lab was discovered. The police were called while emergency services disabled the gas and the area was evacuated. It is believed firefighters came across a hydroponic marijuana growing lab within the building, including propane tanks.
Fahy had left the house and was co-ordinating the evacuation from the street when the building exploded at around 7.30am, despite the fact that the gas had been disabled a half-hour earlier. He was killed when struck by falling debris, while nine other firefighters, six police officers, three Con Edison workers, and two civilians were also injured in the explosion. The severity of their injuries is still unclear, but none are believed to be life threatening.
Twenty-five fire units responded to the explosion, bringing an estimated 106 firefighters to the scene.
"It was very loud. It just lasted for a real-quick second. I didn't know what it was. I thought a truck slammed into something. Everybody started running. Windows shook. I got really scared," neighbor Maureen Murphy, 45, told DNA Info.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill confirmed that investigators with the NYPD's Arson and Explosion Squad are working alongside Bronx detectives to discover what sparked the explosion.
It is not yet known who was currently residing in the single-family home.
"There are renters in the house. We're just looking to determine who they are right now," O'Neill said. He confirmed the police had received a tip in the past few weeks about marijuana being grown in the house.
Michael J. Fahy joined the fire department in 1999 and made lieutenant in 2004. He continued to rise through the ranks becoming a captain in 2007 before being named Battalion 19 Chief in 2012. He is the highest ranking city fire official to die in the line of service since 9/11. According to the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, the last death of a firefighter on duty occurred in 2014.
NYPD and FDNY vehicles stood sentry outside Fahy’s home in Tuckahoe, NY, from Tuesday morning. His crew plan to honor the battalion chief on Wednesday.
The Rockland County native was a graduate of North Rockland High School and was living in the Crestwood section of Yonkers with his family.