Journal News - October 03, 2016by Richard Liebson
YONKERS - New York City Deputy Fire Chief Michael Fahy was remembered as a loving family man who left a promising career as a lawyer to answer "a higher calling" as a firefighter during his funeral at Annunciation Church in Crestwood Saturday.
An estimated 10,000 firefighters, some from as far away as California, filled the neighborhood streets, watching a jumbo-tron simulcast of the Mass which combined fire service tradition with Catholic ritual in a service that was both touching and inspiring.
"This was an unbelievable tribute, and I hope I never see it again," said Maureen Schutte, a neighbor and Annunciation School kindergarten teacher who taught Fahy's son. Schutte, who stood outside the church throughout the more than two-hour funeral, said she felt it was important to be there to show her respect.
A Rockland County native, Fahy, 44, lived in Crestwood with his wife, Fiona, and three young children. He was killed Tuesday, when a house in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx exploded due to a suspected gas leak — the highest ranking FDNY member to die in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center.
The funeral shut down the Crestwood section of Yonkers, with thousands of firefighters and other mourners taking shuttle buses from the Empire City Casino to stand outside the packed church during the service. Crowds started arriving shortly after 8 a.m. for the 11 a.m. Mass.
It began with a roar, as a cadre of police motorcycle units from throughout the region led the funeral procession, which included fire trucks, a color guard and the kilted FDNY Emerald Society Pipe and Drum corp. Throughout the neighborhood, residents flew flags from their homes and stood on their lawns in silent tribute as the procession passed by. Many joined the throngs of firefighters in front of the church, watching the simulcast and, when the time came, receiving communion from a priest who came outside during the Mass.
Fahy's casket, draped with the FDNY flag, was taken to the church on a fire truck hung with purple and black bunting. As it was lowered from the truck, Fahy's widow, Fiona, mouthed the words "I love you," several times.
A sea of white-gloved firefighters in dress uniforms saluted as nine pallbearers carried the coffin up the steps and inside, followed by family members. Earlier, as he entered the church, Cardinal Timothy Dolan stopped to greet a number of children in plaid school uniforms waiting in the mourners line outside.
"We're all in grief. All of New York City and all of the New York Fire Department," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his eulogy. "For a mayor, there's no more solemn duty than to offer our city's condolences."
Speaking directly to Fahy's children, de Blasio assured them that "not only was your father a good man, but he was a hero... on behalf of eight and a half million New Yorkers, I offer my deepest condolences to the Fahy family and the FDNY."
Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro described Fahy as "an extraordinarily intelligent man, with immense talent and ability."
Noting that he left his legal career for the fire department, Nigro said that Fahy "could have been anything he wanted. The sky was the limit. But what he wanted was to be one of us. He wanted to be a New York City firefighter... He put himself in harm's way, so that others could be protected. And they were. And this department lost a rising star... We are better and greater because he chose us."
Also speaking was Fahy's good friend and fellow New York firefighter, Capt. Brendan Deehan, who said Fahy "would have been so embarrassed by all of this attention."
He said he and many of this colleagues called Fahy "counselor — it was our way of making fun of him for choosing the fire department over the law. But he was my counselor, every day... he was always the first guy I would call (for advice) if I had to make a tough decision. If you did what Mike would do, you did the right thing. He died doing the right thing... More than anything, I'm glad that he considered me his friend."
In perhaps the most poignant part of the funeral, two of Fahy's children, Michael and Anna, accompanied their mother to the lectern.
"My dad was a fair, kind and honest man," Anna said, as many who looked on choked back tears, or wiped them from their eyes.
"Dad, you are the greatest," Michael said. "I could always count on you... Dad, you were my hero."
Fiona Fahy said that "New York now knows what we have always known — that Michael Fahy is a hero."
"He was so proud to have worked with you," she said, in thanking the FDNY for its support."Mike was like someone out of central casting — the guy you would want your daughter to marry...
"Everything he did, he did with grace and humility," she said, adding that "I'm nowhere near even starting to make sense of this."
The funeral ended with the casket being carried back to the fire truck as Fahy's colleagues gave him a final salute. A pair of buglers played "Taps," and three helicopters flew overhead before the procession left the church, to the strain of bagpipes.