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FDNY marks 20-year anniversary of fatal Father’s Day Fire with wreath-laying ceremony in Astoria

Denise Ford, Anne Downing and Mary Fahey, the widows of the three firefighters who died in the 2001 Father's Day fire in Astoria, attend the wreath laying ceremony on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

The FDNY held a wreath-laying ceremony on June 16 in memory of fallen firefighters Harry S. Ford, Brian D. Fahey and John J. Downing, who were killed on Father’s Day in 2001 during a five-alarm fire at Long Island General Supply Co. on Astoria Boulevard.

Dozens of firefighters had responded to the blaze in 2001 when an explosion in the basement tore through the two-story building, killing the veteran firefighters. Ford, 50, from Rescue 4 and 40-year-old Downing from Ladder 163 were standing outside the building when the walls collapsed and buried them. Fahey, 46, also with Rescue 4, was inside the building on the ground floor when the floors collapsed, and he fell into the basement.

The widows of the fallen firefighters — Mary Fahey, Denise Ford and Ann Downing — and their families attended the June 16 ceremony alongside members of the FDNY.

Standing with Mary Fahey and Anne Downing, Denise Ford expressed their gratitude that the FDNY had not forgotten the sacrifice their husbands made on that fateful day.

“They have helped us through difficult times, and we are very grateful for all that they have given us,” Denise Ford said. “We are happy that they are here today and to continue to show respect to their memories.”

In front of the families of the fallen and about a hundred members of the FDNY, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that Father’s Day was changed in an instant for the families of the fallen firefighters when they didn’t return home that day.

FDNY firefighters attend the wreath-laying ceremony. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
FDNY firefighters attend the wreath-laying ceremony. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“When a fire in a hardware store on this block led to an explosion, it was a day that broke all of our hearts with eight children suddenly left without their beloved fathers,” Nigro recalled. “They were away from their own families on duty, protecting others.”

Nigro described John Downing, who had been with the department for 11 years, as a professional and as someone who always made everyone a better person.

He shared that Brian Fahey, who had been a firefighter for 14 years, was nicknamed “The Chief” because he stood out as a true leader who was constantly learning and teaching those around him.

Harry Ford, a 27-year veteran with the FDNY, was cited nine times for bravery, Nigro said, calling him “an extraordinary firefighter, renowned for his abilities.”

Nigro explained that the plaque dedicated to the heroes would be attached to the new building currently under construction at the site where the two-story building once stood.

“That plaque will be placed once again as a permanent tribute to their memory,” the commissioner said.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro speaks at the wreath-laying ceremony. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Addressing their widows, Nigro renewed the FDNY’s promise to always take care of them.

“Mary, Ann, Denise — you epitomize strength and courage. You raised wonderful families, and know that you and your families will always be in our hearts,” Nigro said.

Acting Chief of Department Thomas Richardson said that Father’s Day is usually a day of celebration of fatherhood and the important role fathers play in society.

“Instead, their families suffered a tragedy, and the FDNY suffered a very sad loss,” Richardson said, adding that he hoped that acknowledging the supreme sacrifice the three firefighters made 20 years ago would bring comfort to the widows and their families. “We will continue to make sure that this story is told to honor their sacrifice, and the laying of the wreath today is a symbol of remembrance.”

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