FDNY Chief Michael Fahy of Yonkers, Rockland Native, Dies in Bronx Explosion

The Journal News - September 28, 2016

by Staff and wire reports

NEW YORK — Michael Fahy, a New York City fire battalion chief from Yonkers, was killed and at least a dozen other people were injured when a suspected gas explosion destroyed a Bronx home and rocked the surrounding neighborhood Tuesday morning, officials said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the death of Fahy, a Rockland County native and 17-year member of the FDNY and a father of three who lived in the Crestwood section of Yonkers with his family.

The mayor, who said he had met with Fahy's wife and parents at the hospital, called Fahy a "very devoted member of the FDNY, and a good man."

Yonkers Mayor Michael Spano, in a statement, called Fahy a "hero" who "served his department with honor and courage. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Michael's wife, Fiona, their three children, family and friends. May he rest in peace."

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Fahy, 44, was the father of two boys and a girl, ages 6, 8 and 11. He was the first FDNY member killed in the line of duty in more than two years.

Fahy is the son of former FDNY Chief Thomas Fahy, who still lives in North Rockland. He has three siblings, including a sister who is a teacher in the county.

He attended Thiells Elementary School and Haverstraw Middle School before graduating from North Rockland High School in 1990. He later earned degrees from Binghamton University in 1994 and New York Law School before joining the FDNY in 1999. He also had earned a master’s degree at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Naval Postgraduate School, according to education records.

Fahy excelled in the classroom and soccer field, North Rockland School District Superintendent Ileana Eckert said in a statement.

“Michael forged strong and lasting friendships that followed him to the highest ranks of the FDNY,” she said. “His kindness and sense of humor will be forever missed. We are all devastated by this tragic loss and extend our condolences to the entire Fahy family.”

Yonkers police had blocked off Lincoln Circle, where his family lives, on Tuesday afternoon; they said the family had requested privacy. Neighbors said the family, who were parishioners at the nearby Church of Annuciation, recently had struck a deal to sell the home and were planning to move.

One neighbor, Jackie Sutton, said Fahy was a great dad whose death is everyone's loss.

"There's nothing but kind words to be said about this man," said Sutton. "A beautiful asset to our community."

De Blasio ordered flags in New York City lowered to half-staff in Fahy's honor until he is buried.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Fahy's death "another reminder of the sacrifice that our first responders make, that every day when they leave the house, is a day that that family doesn't know if they're every going to see them again."

Added Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino: “It’s always difficult to grasp the passing of a hero, especially when he’s one of our own... We send our prayers to his wife, Fiona, and his entire family, and hope his three children somehow find comfort in knowing their dad died protecting others.”

Police Commissioner James O’Neill later authorities had received information "a couple of weeks ago" about illegal activity on the home's Bronx block and had been in "the initial stages of an investigation" into the tip. He said the investigation would look now at whether the two-story home, in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, was a marijuana “grow house.”

On Tuesday, a passer-by had reported an odor of gas in the area, triggering an emergency response. Officials said one person had exited the house prior to the explosion, and neighbors had been evacuated.

Fahy, part of the 19th Battalion in the Bronx, was directing operations from the street when much of the roof blew off the building; he was struck in the head and body by falling debris. He was rushed from the scene to nearby New York Presbyterian Hospital - The Allen Hospital, but doctors were unable to save him, officials said.

The explosion injured about 20 others, including nine firefighters, six police officers, civilians and Con Edison utility workers, Nigro said. Several were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment, but none of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, officials said. Nigro said Fahy had been one of the department's rising stars, promoted to chief in 2012.

"We lost a hero today and our members are all saddened," said Nigro.

Nigro said there were renters living in the house.

The first alarm came in at 6:22 a.m. for the two-story building in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, the FDNY said. The explosion quickly went to a second alarm, sending 25 units with approximately 106 firefighters to the scene.

Images from the scene showed much of the house gone and debris strewn on the street and covering parked cars. Parts of the first floor with hollowed-out window panes could be made out.

The force of the blast moved mugs in a cabinet several houses away, according to resident Mary Lahti, who also had dust covering her furniture.

Lahti woke up around 6:30 a.m. “smelling something odd, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” she said. “It didn’t smell like gas, really.”

She went back to sleep. The explosion woke her up an hour later. “I thought it was a car that ran into the house, the way the house shook. I was jolted out of bed,” she said.

“When I looked out the window, it was a lot of smoke, a lot of smoke,” Lahti said. Hours later, occasional whiffs of smoke still floated over the neighborhood.

“It’s scary,” she said. “And that’s why you have to be aware of what’s going on around you.”

Journal News reporters Steve Lieberman, Matt Spillane and Ernie Garcia, reporter Kevin McCoy of USA Today and The Associated Press contributed to this report.