Death of FDNY Firefighter in Bridge Fall Deemed Accidental

Newsday - January 08, 2019

The gap through which firefighter Steven Pollard fell was part of the original design plans for the $263 million bridge, which replaced a structure dating to 1941 and deemed by experts to have compromised structural integrity.

By Anthony M. DeStefano anthony.destefano@newsday.com Updated January 7, 2019 9:15 PM PRINT SHARE The death of FDNY firefighter Steven Pollard late Sunday after he fell from a bridge in Brooklyn was deemed a work accident and is being investigated by city and state agencies, officials said.

Pollard died from multiple blunt impact injuries after he fell about 52 feet through the gap between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the new Mill Basin Bridge on the Belt Parkway, according the Office of the City Medical Examiner.

According to FDNY officials, Pollard, 30, who was a new firefighter, was trying to cross from the eastbound lanes where his ladder truck was located to the adjacent westbound lanes to assist in a two-car accident. It was shortly after 10 p.m. when Pollard tried to cross the open roadway gap — which is about two to three feet wide — and fell to the ground below, said FDNY chief Daniel Nigro.

“It's a terrible loss for the department, to lose a member just at the beginning of his career like this is devastating to us,” Nigro said Monday at a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Pollard is the 1,151st FDNY member to die in the line of duty. Late Monday at Ladder Company 170 in Canarsie, Brooklyn, bouquets of flowers and candles were placed outside.

Three firefighters went up in the bucket to hang black and purple bunting. More than 100 fellow firefighters in uniform flanked the entrance to the station house. Using a flashlight, they slowly hung the bunting across each of the three arches above each garage door. "Amazing Grace" played on the bagpipes as firefighters saluted.

Capt. James Quinn, of Ladder 170, said at the ceremony that Pollard had passed his probation period on Dec. 12 with "flying colors," describing him as "a good firefighter" who was "on his way to being a great firefighter."

Quinn said, "We never know what we’re going to run into, but we love this job and Steven loved his job. Steven comes from a family of firefighters. He was bred to be a fireman.” Officials noted that Pollard’s father, Ray, was retired firefighter and his brother Ray Jr., was currently a member.

“The big thing with Steve, he was a man of few words," said Quinn. "He said very few things. If we got a sentence out of him, it was a big thing. But you know what, he got his job done."

At Pollard’s family home in Marine Park, Brooklyn, mourners, including fire department officials, arrived throughout the morning Monday. An FDNY representative at the home said the family would have no comment. Funeral plans were incomplete late Monday.

Neighbor Jackie Afflitto said Pollard lived with his mother and father next-door. She said the tight-knit block was devastated by Pollard's death. "They're the best," Afflitto, 33, a nurse, said of the family. "I know they're a family of firefighters . . . . It's a hard hit for us."

Meanwhile, FDNY and state officials said they were investigating the accident.

“We have been notified and will be investigating,” said Jill Aurora, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Labor. Since Pollard was a local government employee when he died, the state agency has jurisdiction over the case instead of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, officials explained.

The gap through which Pollard fell was part of the original design plans for the $263 million bridge, which replaced a structure dating to 1941 that was deemed by experts to have compromised structural integrity and higher-than-average accident rates. The new bridge is actually two separate bridges handling traffic in different directions.

Concrete barriers some 42 inches high enclose the gap and the bridge lighting was fully operational at the time of the accident, said a city Department of Transportation spokesman.

The new bridge spanning Mill Basin inlet, was opened for traffic in late 2017 and its basic structure is complete. It is expected to be fully finished later this year, said the spokesman.

Richard N. Cochrane, an official with American Society of Highway Engineers, told Newsday that gaps between east and westbound roadways on bridges were common and used to avoid problems from expansion and contraction of spans from temperature changes.

Cochrane noted that about 20 years ago someone fell after misjudging an eight-foot gap in an expressway between highways near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. After that accident, officials put a horizontal chain link fencing over the gap, he noted.

With Nicole Fuller and Alison Fox