By Mark Hallum
Loved-ones, firefighters and elected officials unveiled a plaque at Engine Co. 306 firehouse at 40-18 214th Place in Bayside Friday to commemorate the life of Capt. Thomas Thompson, who died from an illness related to his service at Ground Zero on Aug. 17, 2015.
Members of FDNY’s Pipes and Drums were at the firehouse, where Thompson commanded the respect of many to open the ceremony, which began with a speech by FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro , who was followed by peers and Thompson’s son.
Chief-of-Department James Leonard said Thompson not only played a powerful role in the 306 house, but he also made an influential contribution to the Fire Department, whose ranks were diminished by the 9/11 attacks.
“We were a great department before 9/11, but 9/11 took us to our knees. A lot of people didn’t know we would be able to recover from losing 343 members and massive retirements,” said Leonard, before directing his speech at Thompson’s wife and three children. “But people like Tommy Thompson stayed around. He was a senior member and we share the greatness this department is now because of people like your husband or your dad.”
Leonard said Thompson was at Engine 306 for 13 years, and over the course of his career had been awarded three citations for bravery.
Thompson’s son Jeff took the podium to say that it was important to remember that his father had died of cancer related to the time he spent searching for victims of the tragedy, but also searching the remains of his fallen brothers. He noted that many firefighters are still battling illnesses which are the result of their service at Ground Zero.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the ceremony was emotional due to his personal connection to the captain.
“He was a great guy. He was always concerned about Bayside and he fought to save this firehouse when the previous mayor was threatening to close it. He would always greet me on Bell Boulevard,” Avella said, explaining that Thompson’s duty to the community extended beyond the department. He had expressed interest in improving Bayside to the senator.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said Thompson took a front seat during the two times the Bloomberg administration planned to shut down Engine Co. 306 in 2009 and 2013.
“Look how large their territory is,” Vallone said, pointing at a map on the wall of the firehouse. “It’s huge. They always look at [the firehouse] as a luxury, but it’s a necessity.”
Vallone said the rapid response of Engine 306 to the recent fire at Strawberry Farms in Whitestone was an example of how important the fire station has been for the communities it serves.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall