Skip to comments.Retired FDNY Capt. determined to remember fallen Bravest
Posted on 01/16/2009 5:26:53 PM PST by Coleus
Retired FDNY Capt. Manny Fernandez with Daily News front page covering '66 fire that killed 12 Bravest. Manny Fernandez still remembers the "boom" he heard on that tragic day in 1966. He was a 32-year-old firefighter with Engine 18, battling an inferno that engulfed several buildings in Chelsea. "I started yelling '18!18!' and I figured somebody would answer," he recalled sadly in an interview last week. "Nobody answered."
The Oct. 17, 1966, fire claimed the lives of 12 New York City firefighters. It was the worst loss of life in the department before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. As the 42nd anniversary of that date nears, Fernandez is renewing his pledge to honor his fallen comrades. He wants fire officials to reestablish the Hispanic Society's Medal of Valor - which he founded in their memory back in 1968 - as an annual award. Fernandez, of Jackson Heights, survived that terrible day only because he was stationed with the rig.
"I made a promise that they [fallen firefighters] would never be forgotten," said Fernandez, who still chokes with emotion when remembering the fire. The blaze started in a building on E. 22nd St. At one point, firefighters entered the Wonder Drug Store on 23rd St. to get better access. What they didn't know was a basement wall had been moved and art supplies were stored beneath the drugstore. There was an explosion and the floor collapsed.
For weeks, the city and the department mourned. A poignant Daily News photo shows a surviving firefighter with a fallen colleague's burned helmet, declaring it the fire "that melted a helmet and many a heart." Fernandez stayed with the FDNY, climbing the ranks to become a captain. He retired in 1990. "If a medal of valor must be eliminated from the annual Medal Day ceremonies, it cannot be this one, which bears the names and ranks of 12 men who lost their lives in service to the people of New York," Fernandez wrote in a letter to Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
Fire Department officials said late last week they received the letter and were reviewing Fernandez's request. The firefighters who died in the tragedy were: Deputy Chief Thomas Reilly, Battalion Chief Walter Higgins, Lts. Joseph Priore and John Finley, and Firefighters William McCarron, James Galanaugh, Joseph Kelly, Daniel Rey, Bernard Tepper, John Berry, Rudolph Kaminsky and Carl Lee.
Firefighters honor 12 Bravest who died in Oct. 17, 1966, Wonder Drug blaze at 23rd St. and Broadway. Gone but not forgotten. That was the sentiment echoed by members of the FDNY and their families as they gathered on the anniversary of the infamous 23rd St. fire of 1966 that took the lives of 12 firefighters.
"The most important thing is we are still here all these years later remembering them," said Christine Priore, 42, who was just 6 months old when she lost her father, Lt. Joseph Priore, in the blaze. "The FDNY's brotherhood is unbreakable." The fire at the Wonder Drug store at 23rd St. and Broadway was the single deadliest blaze in the city's history prior to 9/11. Twelve members of Ladder 7 and Engine 18 died when the floor beneath them collapsed, engulfing them in flames.
"I saw a lot of my friends for the last time that night," said retired FDNY Capt. Manny Fernandez, 74, who drove Engine 18 to the blaze but never entered the building. "I still think about them. It still chokes me up." The names of the fallen heroes were read as a bell chimed 12 times in their memory. A wreath was placed beneath the plaque that permanently hangs in their memory and serves as a reminder of their sacrifice. RELATED: RETIRED FDNY CAPT. DETERMINED TO REMEMBER FALLEN BRAVEST
Was this the inspiration for the opening scene of Ron Howard’s 1989 “Backdraft?”
I remember going to New York for the funeral we took 3 busloads of DC Firefighters there to attend.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.