Hundreds gathered on 14th Street in Astoria Thursday morning to mark the 20th anniversary of what has gone down in FDNY annals as The Father’s Day Fire.
The blaze at Long Island General Supply Hardware set off an explosion that killed Firefighters Harry Ford, 50, and Brian Fahey, 46, of Rescue 4 and Firefighter John Downing, 40, of Ladder 163 on June 17, 2001.
Their widows, Mary Ford, Denise Fahey and Anne Downing were in attendance with their families.
The firefighters had eight children. Ford’s son, Harry, now serves at Ladder Co. 108 in Brooklyn, where his father worked before joining the elite rescue unit.
“Twenty years ago, today, these three men were working here in Queens on Father’s Day, a special day for any family, but in a department where so many have followed their fathers into our ranks, it had always held extra special meaning,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “And that special day, that day of happiness and celebration, was forever changed in an instant when a fire in a hardware store on this block led to an explosion that took three wonderful people from all of us.
“It was a day that broke all our hearts, with eight children suddenly left without their beloved father. They left an indelible impact on their companies and on every firefighter lucky enough to have worked with them,” he added.
The fire at the corner of Astoria Boulevard and 14th Street, eventually ruled accidental, was caused when a teenager knocked over a container of gasoline. The fuel made its way to a pilot light on a water heater in the basement of the hardware store.
The blast blew a brick wall onto firefighters working outside, killing Ford and Downing and seriously injuring many more. The first floor collapsed beneath Fahey, burying him under rubble. He did send out a rescue call but could not be reached in time.
A new building is under construction on the site. A plaque dedicated to the three will be returned and placed in the new building when it is completed.
“Today, is about honoring Harry, Brian, and John for the way in which they lived their lives, brave and heroic, lives of service and dedication,” Nigro said. “Know that you and your families are forever in our hearts. God bless the Ford, Downing and Fahey families, and may God continue to bless the FDNY.”
Acting Chief of Department Thomas Richardson also praised the three heroes and their families.
“They were husbands, fathers, sons, and New York City Firefighters,” Richardson said. “They died on Father’s Day, a day that is usually a celebration of fatherhood and the important role that fathers play in society. Instead their families suffered tragedy and the FDNY suffered a very sad loss. I am sure that being dads was their favorite role. We will continue to make sure that their story is told to honor their sacrifice. The laying of the wreath today is a symbol of remembrance and a reminder to those who pass this location that three hero New York City Firefighters gave their lives serving in a most noble and selfless profession.”