Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Killed in Bronx Explosion After Reports of Gas Leak

NY Times - September 28, 2016

by ELI ROSENBERG and EMILY PALMER

A Fire Department battalion chief was killed and at least a dozen other people were injured in an explosion on Tuesday morning that destroyed a two-story house in the Bronx that was being investigated as a place where marijuana was being grown, New York City officials said.

The chief, Michael J. Fahy, a 17-year veteran of the department, was one of several emergency workers who responded to a 6:20 a.m. call about a gas leak at the building in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, the officials said.

When firefighters arrived at the building, on West 234th Street, they saw what they thought could be materials used in drug production inside the house and called the police, the officials said. The firefighters also smelled gas. The explosion occurred at about 7:30 a.m.

Speaking at a news conference at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Allen Pavilion in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said Chief Fahy was directing operations on the street when he was struck by debris from the blast. The other people injured were also outside the house, he said.

Mr. Nigro said Chief Fahy, 44, a father of three young children, was “a rising star” of the department.

Chief Fahy had followed his own father, also a battalion chief, into the department, Mr. Nigro added. The last death in the line of duty for the Fire Department was in 2014, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.

Firefighters, police officers and workers from the utility Consolidated Edison were among those hurt, Mr. Nigro said, adding that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The police received a tip in the last few weeks about a house on West 234th Street being used to grow marijuana, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said at the news conference. Officers were in the initial stages of an investigation there, he said.

Images on Tuesday showed the two-story dwelling reduced largely to rubble, a pile of splintered wood and bricks spilled onto the cars parked in front of it. The explosion was felt and heard blocks away.

Jennifer Mullane, who lives a couple of blocks from the site, said she was in her kitchen washing dishes when a loud boom shook her building.

“It felt like it was literally across the street,” Ms. Mullane said. “There was smoke and ashes floating down, like burnt paper.”

David Khabinsky, 25, a photographer who also lives nearby, said he was getting ready for work at the time.

“I thought it was very loud,” he said. “Then five minutes later you hear police sirens, and then helicopter after helicopter after helicopter.”

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, J. David Goodman, Christine Hauser, Nikita Stewart and William K. Rashbaum.