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    New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
    Remembering Bravest lost in '66
    Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

    Retired members of (Engine) 18 (above) share quiet moment in memory of 12 fallen comrades killed in fire 40 years ago at Broadway and 23rd St. Retired Lt. James Linekin (below) listens during ceremony that brought crew together.

    The men are now in their 70s or 80s, but the imprint the 23rd St. fire has left on their memories is indelible.
    "Most of us worked at that fire 40 years ago," Sol Elias, 71, said yesterday at an anniversary service at the site on 23rd St. and Broadway. "It was hell, knowing you lost a bunch of brothers."

    He and other retired firemen remembered the comrades they lost in what was the FDNY's largest loss of life at a single fire before Sept. 11, 2001.

    They were joined at the somber service by widows, children and grandchildren as department officials praised the men killed exactly 40 years before.

    "We were on the other side of that wall when those 12 fellas went down," William O'Keefe, who suffered second- and third-degree burns while fighting the blaze, told the Daily News. "We just made it out through the grace of God."

    Walter Clarke, 75, said he had seldom talked about the fire - a raging inferno adjacent to a drugstore - since Oct. 17, 1966.

    "But in the last few weeks, I've been going over it and over it," Clarke said. "I can remember every detail."

    So can Manny Fernandez of (Engine) 18 - he was driving the truck that night. "I dropped them off and they went into the drugstore. I was hooking up and heard a boom," he said. "I crawled in yelling, 'Eighteen! Eighteen!' By then, the back of the floor had lit up."

    Chaplain Fred Eckhardt, now 81, tried to stop him.

    "He was going in after them, and I grabbed him and said, 'Manny, it's not going to do any good,'" he recalled.

    In the days that followed, Eckhardt consoled 12 widows who were left with a total of 32 children.

    Tony Liotta, who was 34 in 1966, was at the site in the days that followed.

    "We were in the cellar where the men were buried," he said. "We found the men and carried them out."

    He remembers talking to a wife who was waiting to hear whether her husband had been found. "I just held her," he said, choking back tears. "I didn't know what to say. I saw her husband in the basement."

    The pain also was near the surface for Jeanette Harrison, whose husband, Rudolph Kaminsky, was killed.

    "It's still there," she said, tears quickly welling up in her eyes. "I still remember it; all the shock and the disbelief."
    Last edited by FFFRED; 10-19-2006, 08:28 AM.

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    New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
    Fire hero's legacy
    a family tradition

    Thursday, October 19th, 2006

    One day when he drove his cop car down Broadway in Manhattan, John Finley 3rd stopped at 23rd St., next to the Flatiron Building, and turned to his partner and said, "See that brass plaque on the wall there? Go read it."
    His partner went and read about a dozen firefighters who died in a fire at that location on Oct. 17, 1966. He walked back wide-eyed, and asked, "That Lt. John Finley any relation to you?"

    "My grandfather," Finley said with that fierce Brooklyn Irish pride that fueled his family into 100 years of civil service to this city, and 150 years of service to the republic.

    For the last 40 years, his grandfather has been memorialized every Oct. 17 by everyone on the FDNY and thousands of citizens as one of 12 firefighters from Engine 16, Ladder 7, on E. 29th St., who died in the infamous Wonder Drugs pharmacy fire. Until 9/11, that "job" had the dark distinction of being the one that claimed the greatest number of firefighters in FDNY history.

    "The terrible irony is that 9/11 made the Wonder Drug fire the second worst loss of life job in FDNY history," says Finley. "But on 9/11, my brother Brian was off duty when Ladder 7 got the Trade Center call.

    "By the time he made it to the Brooklyn Bridge to join his fellow firefighters, he learned that all the guys on duty in Ladder 7 had been lost in Tower 2."

    The Finley family started dedicating themselves to public service the day they stepped foot on American soil from Ireland.

    "A great-grandfather on my mother's side got off the boat and served in the Civil War," says Finley, who lives in Marine Park. "But he served under the name of Sharkey because a draft dodger paid him, like, a hundred bucks to serve in his place."

    Finley's great-grandfather, James John Finley, served on the Fire Department from 1903-1920 after serving with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish American War in Cuba.

    "No one in my family ever forgets," says Finley, who joined the cops in 1990, and whose Uncle Joe Finley as well as brother Brian both became firefighters stationed in Ladder 7, the same firehouse as the heroic Lt. John Finley I.

    "Two years after my grandfather John Finley 1st died, my father, John Finley 2nd, served as an Army MP in Vietnam," says Finley. "He's in the famous Time magazine photo where he and another MP are defending the American Embassy in Saigon during the Tet Offensive when the North Vietnamese are attacking."

    John Finley 3rd joined the New York City Transit Police in 1990 before it was merged into the NYPD in 1995, in what the old Transit "cave cops" still refer to as a "hostile takeover." Today, John Finley 3rd works for Highway 2 in Brooklyn, and serves as a union rep.

    "Every year, my entire family attends the service at the site of the Wonder Drug fire," he says. "Me, my father, my brothers, uncles, all our kids, and the families of many of the other 11 guys lost that day pray together. We have a memorial service at the site and a church service. When someone from your family dies defending your city, you just never forget."

    What they remember is that on Oct. 17, 1966, John Finley and nine other firefighters who'd entered Wonder Drug to fight a raging fire were killed when the floor of 6 E. 23rd St. collapsed under them, plunging them into a cellar inferno.

    Two other firefighters were killed from the blast of flame on the first floor.

    Bagpipes wailed outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the city wept for Lt. John Finley and Deputy Chief Thomas Reilly; Battalion Chief Walter Higgins; Lt. Joseph Priore; Firefighters John Berry; James Galanaugh; Rudolf Kaminsky; Joseph Kelly; Carl Lee Ladder; William McCarron; Daniel Rey, and Bernard Tepper.

    "It's a funny thing," says Finley. "You'd think something like that would scare people away. But instead, when a lot of families in this city experience a tragedy like that, their children and their children's children want to join the tradition of public service."

    We should all give thanks for families such as the Finleys who fight our wars and our fires and lock up the bad guys for salaries that will never make them rich. John Finley 3rd still has his first NYPD paycheck from October 1990, for $660 for two weeks' service as a rookie cop.

    "The saddest part is that that's more than a rookie cop or probie firefighter makes today," he says.

    Which is more the reason this week that we should all salute and treasure his grandfather, and those other brave men who perished with him 40 Octobers ago.

    RIP Brothers. You Haven't been forgotten.

    Deputy Chief Thomas A Reilly, Division .3

    BC Walter J Higgins, Battalion. 7

    Lt John J Finley, Ladder 7

    Lt Joseph Priore, Engine 18

    Fr John G Berry, Ladder 7

    Fr James V Galanaugh, Engine 18

    Fr Rudolph F Kaminsky, Ladder 7

    Fr Joseph Kelly, Engine 18

    Fr Carl Lee Ladder, 7

    Fr William F McCarron, Division 3

    Fr Daniel L Rey, Engine 18

    Fr Bernard A Tepper, Engine 18


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    October 17, 2006
    Oct. 17, 1966, When 12 Firemen Died
    The fire has been out for 40 years now, but its memory still burns.

    It is Oct. 17, 1966, and Vinny Dunn, a 31-year-old lieutenant in the Fire Department, is sprinting east on 23rd Street to get his orders on working the rear of a burning building on East 22nd.

    He reaches a chief who orders him and his engine company into an adjacent building. Then the chief turns and orders another young lieutenant, Joseph Priore, to have his company pull a hose line into the Wonder Drug store on 23rd Street, which backed up to the burning building. Lieutenant Priore and the men of Engine 18 disappear inside, never to be seen alive again. They were lost in a floor collapse, which killed 12 firefighters, including the commander who ordered the men in, Deputy Chief Thomas A. Reilly.

    Among them, the dead men left 12 widows and 32 children. It took 14 hours to dig out the dead. Until Sept. 11, 2001, it was the heaviest loss of life in the Fire Department’s history. A lengthy inquiry showed that a cellar wall had been moved, leaving the drugstore’s five-inch-thick terrazzo floor unsupported and vulnerable to collapse.

    Today, the department will remember the dead in a ceremony at noon at East 23rd Street and Broadway.

    Vincent J. Dunn, a smart and talkative man who rose through the department’s ranks to deputy chief, has spent the intervening years learning all he could about load-bearing walls and joists, about how buildings work and why they fail.

    What he has learned he has summed up in two sentences in his book, “Safety and Survival on the Fireground” (Fire Engineering, 1992): “There are no new lessons to be learned from a firefighter’s death or injury. The cause of a tragedy is usually an old lesson we have not learned or have forgotten along the way.”

    To some extent, Mr. Dunn and others say, the Fire Department faces the same problems it did in 1966. An anniversary not only recalls the dead, but also reminds the living of hard lessons that come from collapses and illegal construction like those that killed firefighters in 1998 and 2005.

    To keep those lessons fresh, Mr. Dunn has written magazine articles and books. A decade before 9/11, he wrote an article warning that it was only a matter of time before a fire in a skyscraper led to a catastrophic loss of life.

    Now 71 and retired, he lectures across the nation, and he served as an adviser to the National Institute of Standards and Technology on the fire and collapse of the World Trade Center.

    Still, he has been unable to answer the bigger questions at the heart of his life’s work. Why had Chief Reilly turned to him first? What if he, not his friend Joe Priore, had been sent inside 6 East 23rd Street?

    “Had he reversed those orders, we would have been dead,” Mr. Dunn said last week in the sun room of his home in Douglaston, Queens. “For some reason. ...” he began. He left the thought unfinished.

    His is costly wisdom, gleaned from seeing firefighters killed and injured in buildings that have been improperly built and renovated, even after the 23rd Street fire, when the city vowed to protect its firefighters better by improving the information given to them about renovations, among other things.

    Firefighters periodically inspect buildings near their firehouses, and the information they collect is entered into a database. They cannot enter private dwellings, though, and often illegal construction goes unnoticed.

    If a glance at recent fatalities is any indication, firefighters sometimes lack an accurate picture of the building they are entering. In 1998, Capt. Scott LaPiedra and Lt. James W. Blackmore died after being trapped under a falling floor in a Brooklyn building where a bearing wall had been improperly moved, leaving the few remaining supports to burn quickly. Three other firefighters were injured, and the city, which owned the building, ultimately paid millions in settlements.

    In January 2005, illegal partitions in a burning Bronx apartment cut off access to a fire escape, forcing four firefighters trapped inside to jump from a window. Two, Lt. Curtis W. Meyran and Firefighter John G. Bellew, died. The building owners and tenants were later charged with the deaths.

    In August, Lt. Howard J. Carpluk Jr. and Firefighter Michael C. Reilly were killed after a floor collapsed in a Bronx building that a fire official said is being investigated for improper construction.

    “Unless you stop going into buildings, it’s going to keep happening,” said William J. McLaughlin, a lawyer and former New York City firefighter.

    Though the investigation into the cause of the August fire is not complete, it seems, in some aspects, similar to the 1966 disaster.

    In that fire 40 years ago, a fire was reported just after 9:30 p.m. in a building at 7 East 22nd Street, near Broadway, where an art dealer stored highly flammable lacquer and other paint supplies in the cellar, according to the Fire Department’s report.

    The smoke was so thick and the heat so intense that the first firefighters to arrive had difficulty entering the building. Fire officers sent crews around the corner to 23rd Street to see if they could enter through the drugstore.

    What fire crews did not know was that the East 22nd Street building shared a cellar with the Wonder Drug store. And in a recent renovation, the dividing cellar wall had been pushed north toward 23rd Street, giving the art dealer more storage space and shrinking the cellar under the drugstore. The art dealer’s supplies were now stored beneath the drugstore.

    Only a small amount of smoke was wafting out of the drugstore when firefighters went inside. But around 10:40 p.m., as they walked to the back of the store, the floor collapsed with a huge noise, sending 10 firefighters to the burning cellar below. Two others were killed in a flashover of fire on the first floor.

    Manny Fernandez, then the driver for Engine 18, had stayed outside the building, following protocol. After the collapse, he tried crawling inside on his hands and knees, he said, but the heat was too much.

    Now 75, retired and living in Jackson Heights, Queens, Mr. Fernandez still weeps when he recalls the dead.

    Forty years after losing her husband, Marie Reilly, 84, said she could remember it all as if it were yesterday and still struggles to make sense of it: “It’s just one of those things. Who knows.” She never remarried.

    In addition to Lieutenant Priore, 42, Engine 18 lost Fireman James V. Galanaugh, 27; Fireman Joseph Kelly, 35; Fireman Bernard A. Tepper, 41; and Daniel L. Rey, 26, a probationary fireman.

    From Ladder Company 7, Lt. John J. Finley, 54; Fireman John G. Berry, 31; Fireman Rudolph F. Kaminsky, 33; and Fireman Carl Lee, 29, all died. Also killed were two commanding officers, Deputy Chief Reilly and Battalion Chief Walter J. Higgins, 46, and a chief’s aide, William F. McCarren, 44.

    Of the 32 children left behind, only one went on to become a New York City firefighter: Joe Finley, the son of Black Jack Finley, as the Ladder 7 lieutenant was known. A grandson of Lieutenant Finley, Brian, is now a firefighter in Ladder 7 on East 29th Street, and every day when he comes to work, he passes a bronze plaque with his grandfather’s name hanging just outside the front door.


    The site of the 1966 fire is now occupied by an apartment building.
    Last edited by FFFRED; 10-19-2006, 08:15 AM.

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    started a topic 23rd Street collapse - video

    23rd Street collapse - video

    Here is a good video. Never forget.

    23rd Street fire video link


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