How a Love Story was Born out of an FDNY Tragedy

NY 1 - August 04, 2018

by Clodagh McGowan

Every year a mass at St Brendan’s Church in Sheepshead Bay celebrates the lives of six firefighters who died in a massive fire in a Waldbaums supermarket on August 2, 1978. Forty years later tears are still shed. The pain endures.

Tara McManus Hyes was nine years old when her father Firefighter James McManus died. He along with Lieutenant James Cutillo and firefighters George Rice, Charles Bouton, William O'Connor and Harold Hastings were on the roof of the supermarket when it collapsed.

"He was a gentle giant. All for his family. All for the job," McManus recalled.

"I worked with all of those gentlemen. God bless them. They were all super guys and great family members. The most important thing is we never leave anybody behind and we never forget," said Danny Prince, a retired FDNY member.

Images of the fire, and the destruction are still engrained in the minds of many in this community four decades later.

"When the roof collapsed, it was like a puff of horror. I was across the street," recalled Steven Barrison, President of the Bay Improvement Group.

But even through an immense tragedy a love story bloomed. Brian Hastings and Caroline McManus met at an FDNY Christmas party for the 18 children left fatherless by the inferno. They were 14 years old.

"We had a common story and just struck up a conversation," Hastings said.

"We talked constantly on the phone to each other. I could vent to him and he could vent to me. Our friends don’t know what to say to us. I know what to say to you and you know what to say to me. We were good support for each other," McManus-Hastings said.

Their relationship grew, and 10 years later, Brian Hastings and Caroline McManus were married.

Now the couple has two children of their own. A family forged by tragedy and love, helping to keep the memories of these fallen men alive.