April 22, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – New York City’s firefighters are mourning William Tolley of Ladder 135, who died April 20 while fighting a fire in Queens.
“Firefighter Tolley died a hero, living up to the title of ‘Bravest,’ Uniformed Firefighters Association President James Slevin said in a statement. “His death is a grim reminder of the dangerous work New York City firefighters do on behalf of our city every single day, and FF Tolley’s sacrifice today will never be forgotten.”
Tolley, 42, fell five stories to his death during a two-alarm fire at 16-15 Putnam Ave., in Ridgewood a few blocks from the Brooklyn border. The afternoon fire, in a second-story apartment, was under control and he was doing outside ventilation work on the roof, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a press conference at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center after Tolley was pronounced dead. The commissioner described it as a routine operation in which firefighters “ventilate from above in order to let the dangerous heated gases exit the building” to protect people still inside above the fire.
Witnesses told the Daily News that Tolley had fallen while moving between the roof and the bucket at the end of a five-story ladder. The Fire Department’s investigation will focus on whether there was any mechanical failure on the ladder, according to Newsday.
“A man dedicated to protecting others gave his life to this work and, like all members of the FDNY, understood every single day he was putting his life on the line, but he did it willingly in service of others,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the hospital. “Today, he made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Tolley, a firefighter for 14 years, lived in Bethpage with his wife and 8-year-old daughter. He described himself as a “family guy,” and had a Fire Department badge tattooed on his right forearm. He’d played drums in the Long Island metal band Internal Bleeding for 25 years.
“My guys work with me, when I need time off for a show they step up and fill in for me at work. No other job in the world can compare to what I do,” he told the British Web site AllAboutTheRock in 2013 when they asked him how he managed work, family life, and touring.
Tolley was the third Fire Department worker to die on the job in the last year. In March, EMT Yadira Arroyo was killed in the Bronx when a man stole her ambulance and ran her over. Last October, Battalion Chief Michael J. Fahy died when leaking gas blew up a marijuana-growing house in the Bronx. Another firefighter-rocker, Bullys guitarist John “Johnny Heff” Heffernan, was one of the 343 Bravest who perished when the World Trade Center collapsed after the 9/11 attacks.
“It is a terrible tragedy for a Department that’s certainly known its share—more than its share—of tragedies,” Nigro said. William Tolley was the 1,147th firefighter to die in the line of duty since the Fire Department of New York was founded in 1865.