by Cynthia Koons
This is the first Christmas the Brick family house will not be decorated with their son's love.
Thomas Brick, a New York City firefighter who died battling a blaze in the Inwood section of Manhattan a year ago, last saw his mother the afternoon they put the lights on their family Christmas tree.
In a heroic rescue effort the afternoon of Dec. 16, 2003, Brick wound up trapped in a warehouse where he went into cardiac arrest and died.
A year after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta met in Auburndale to pay their respects to the fallen firefighter, they got together again Dec. 17 to honor Brick, an Auburndale native, with a memorial plaque at Ladder Co. 36, the station house he called home for two years.
"In time, there will be new (firefighters) in the house that don't know him," said Margaret Brick, his mother. "It's a very nice feeling knowing that he's not just forgotten."
A two-year veteran of the Fire Department, Brick, who was 30 when he died, was also a longtime resident of 195th Street and 42nd Avenue in the Auburndale section of Flushing.
Brick was among the first to respond to a furniture and mattress warehouse fire at 3859 10th Avenue in Upper Manhattan on the afternoon of Dec. 16, 2003. He was separated from other firefighters in Manhattan's Ladder Co. 36 for 10 minutes before a rescue team found him in cardiac arrest, authorities said.
Scoppetta said last year that Brick was conducting a search-and-rescue mission when he was likely hit by falling mattresses and subsequently burned. He was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead that afternoon.
He was the second firefighter in the city to die in the line of duty after Sept. 11, 2001.
His mother said he had applied to be a firefighter twice before the terrorist attacks and was working at a resort in Pennsylvania when he was called to duty.
"If anyone benefitted from 9/11, it was him because it enabled him to get into the Fire Department at that time," Margaret Brick said. "He got his wish."
He is survived by his two children, Madeline and Aden, who were both toddlers at the time of his death. He also left his parents, Margaret and Thomas Brick, and his sister Megan and brother Christopher.
"The children miss their father very much, he was absolutely very devoted to them," Margaret Brick said. "He was always on the floor, he was like another kid playing with him."
She said her son loved Christmas, which makes the anniversary of his death particularly hard this year.
"He absolutely exuded the spirit of Christmas, particularly at Christmastime, but all year round, seven days a week," she said.
"The last day he spent with us was putting up the Christmas tree, putting up the lights. For us it feels like the first Christmas without him - it's actually the second," she said. "This year the shock has worn off and the feelings are there. It's very raw."
The Fire Department, she said, has been very supportive of the family throughout the past year.
Brick was known in the FDNY for his heroics beyond the fatal rescue attempt last December. On his first day on the job, he helped save six people from a blaze in Washington Heights, Bloomberg said.
His ladder company received the Thomas R. Elsasser Memorial Medal for rescuing the occupants of a five-story multiple dwelling on 187th Street in Manhattan during that fire in January 2002, a Fire Department spokesman said.
Brick joined the Fire Department on Oct. 28, 2001 and was part of the first class to join the squad after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took the lives of 343 firefighters.
The plaque inside the quarters of Ladder Co. 36, located at 29 Vermilyea Ave. in Manhattan, will honor Brick's bravery.
"The memorial will forever serve as a reminder to all those that enter this firehouse of the dedication and enthusiasm that Tommy had for his job and his fire house family," Scoppetta said at the Dec. 16 ceremony.
His mother said that despite her grief, her son lived his dream.
For that she is proud of him.
"The day that he graduated from the Fire Department I'd never seen him happier and I said to him, 'If anything happens to you, we'll never regret it,'" she said. "So I have to stick to that promise."