Fire marshal remembered as a hero

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

The FDNY fire marshal who died of a heart attack in his car Christmas Eve was remembered by friends and family as a fearless hero.

Martin “Woody” McHale, 50, was behind the wheel of his gray Chevy Silverado on December 24 when he suffered a heart attack around 6:40 p.m. and crashed into a tree less than 200 feet from his Hollis Hills home, police and the Queens Medical Examiner’s office said.

The off-duty officer was later pronounced dead at North Shore University Hospital.

“He was a wonderful person. You couldn’t meet anyone better,” said his cousin, Brian McHale. “He had a heart of gold.”

Neighbors and friends said it was McHale’s natural instinct to help others, even on his days off. He was a hero in the city and on the quiet Queens block where he lived with his three-year-old twin boys, they said.

“My daughter used to run up to him and he used to pick her up and hug her,” said Helena Barsky, who lived next door to McHale. “He helped out the neighbor in the next house. She had somebody robbing her house, and he chased down the robbers and got them caught.”

McHale served the FDNY for 23 years and was a member of the department’s football team. He became a fire marshal in 1999, the FDNY said, and earned the Commissioner Martin Scott Medal in 2007.

Longtime friend Steven Molinari said McHale constantly ran towards danger, on and off-duty, when others would bolt the other way. He also showed his valor in small acts of kindness, Molinari said, like helping people in wheelchairs get home safely.

McHale’s compassion and bravery led to Molinari naming his West Village bar after the hero, while he was alive.

“That’s who he was. Just over and over again, these were the types of things he did. He went out of his way to help people,” Molinari said. “He was a hero even in the small things he did.”

(THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola)