The mournful skirl of bagpipes filled the air in Far Rockaway Friday morning as family and friends of firefighter Jesse Gerhard joined members of the FDNY and NYPD for a solemn bunting ceremony to honor the fallen.
The 33-year-old collapsed Wednesday night while on duty inside his Ladder 134 firehouse on Central Avenue, during a “medical episode” that was likely heart failure, according to authorities. His fellow firefighters rushed to perform emergency medical care and he was brought to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, where he died.
The seven-year FDNY veteran had responded to a multistory residential building two-alarm fire on Beach Channel Drive on Tuesday, officials said, and was assigned as an “irons” man in charge of forcing entry into a building when doors are locked to rescue victims.
Firefighter Carl Kretkowski remembered his friend and partner at Ladder 134 as he spoke to those assembled outside the firehouse Friday.
“He loved being a fireman. He lived and breathed being a fireman,” Kretkowski said. “He was a loyal, loyal, loyal guy. He’s going to be missed and a legend in our minds. Our firehouse will miss him terribly.”
Gerhard will continue to save lives, even after his death. LiveOnNY, the federally designated organ procurement organization in the New York metro area, worked with Gerhard’s family and the FDNY on a tissue donation to the community.
“We can now confirm that this generous gift could change the lives of as many as 50 to 75 people, including those in need of the gift of sight as well as burn victims, dialysis patients [and] patients with musculoskeletal conditions,” LiveOnNY President and CEO Leonard Achan, RN, said. “Firefighter Jesse Gerhard joins the growing list of thousands of New York organ and tissue donor heroes who will live on through their generosity to help others live on.”
Flags were flown across the city and Gerhard was remembered with a moment of silence before the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden Thursday.
“Gerhard’s sacrifice embodies the true meaning of the word ‘hero’ and this city will be eternally grateful,” Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said in a statement. “The entire firefighter and first responder community grieve as one with the Gerhard family and will stand with them as they cope with this tragedy. Our deepest sympathies to his brothers and sisters in Ladder Co. 134 who are heartbroken at the loss of one of their own.”
Gerhard is survived by his parents, his brother and his sister-in-law.
“Gerhard lost his life after battling a two-alarm fire, saving the lives of four people in the process,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo said. “His spirit will live on with his family and the men and women of the FDNY, especially those at Ladder Company 134 where firefighter Gerhard bravely served the Far Rockaway community for the last two years.”
Funeral arrangements are pending. Gerhard lived in Long Beach and was a volunteer with the Islip Fire Department.
“As a member of the FDNY, and formerly an EMT, this young man dedicated his life to saving others,” state Senator James Sanders said. “He has earned the respect of the community and this is a tremendous loss for our entire city. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends and all of the members of the FDNY who are grieving.”
Additional reporting by Lloyd Mitchell.