Firefighters past and present gathered at the headquarters of Engine Company 295 and Ladder Company 144 in Whitestone on Thursday to celebrate the units’ 100 years of service in the community.
The ceremony commemorated the service of every person who walked through the doors of the firehouse at 12-49 149th St, and active and retired firefighters, along with elected officials, spoke about the important duty this line of work demands.
Chief of Department James E. Leonard addressed the crowd to relay the impact that each individual has on Whitestone and surrounding communities.
“We’re the largest fire department in the country, but it still comes down to individual firefighters and companies protecting individual neighborhoods,” Leonard said. “So to the retired firefighters here, thank you for laying the foundation and we are standing on the shoulders of giants. You created where we are today.”
During the ceremony, the stories of three firefighters who lost their lives were relayed to the crowd to illustrate the sacrifice that is ultimately a part of the job. Frederick Zeigler and William Austin were killed while responding to a boat fire in the East River in 1947. The gas tank on the boat exploded, badly injuring Zeigler and Austin. Both men died of their injuries at Flushing Hospital. Walter Voight, a first-responder during 9/11, died from illness related to the attacks.
“Though they served in far different times, each Firefighter served in the exact same way — with true bravery and valor,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said. “They never hesitated in their sworn duty. They went towards the danger trying to save others. That is act which defines this Department — and it is a tradition, much like their memory, which will always live within these walls.”
Firefighters were honored with a plaque to hang in their 100-year-old fire house. Captain Ken Ruggerio of Engine Company 295 said he knew he wanted to be a firefighter when, as a young boy living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he would see firefighters rush to the scene of a tragedy and use their problem-solving skills to diffuse any situation.
“To me it’s the dedication, the commitment, the bravery and knowing that any problem that arises in the neighborhood, a firefighter is ready to help,” Ruggerio said. “When you call the Fire Department, we’re here to fix the problem.”