‘Terrible Tragedy': 14-Year Veteran of FDNY Dies After Falling Several Stories in Queens

What to Know

  • 42-year-old William Tolley was killed after he fell several stories while working to ventilate a building that was on fire in Queens
  • The 14-year FDNY veteran was either in the bucket of a ladder truck or on roof of the building when he fell; an investigation is ongoing
  • Tolley leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old daughter

UPDATE: Hours Before Death, FDNY Firefighter Was Looking for Cupcakes in Shape of Cross for Communion

A 14-year veteran of the FDNY died after falling several stories while containing an apartment fire in Queens on Thursday afternoon, officials said. 

William N. Tolley, 42, was working on ventilating the apartment building when he fell five stories to the ground below, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at an emotional press conference. He was taken to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in serious condition and later pronounced dead. 

Visibly emotional, Commissioner Nigro said Tolley leaves behind a wife and an 8-year-old daughter. He lived in Bethpage and was a senior firefighter at Ladder 135/Engine 286. 

“It’s a terrible tragedy for the department, especially on the heels — one month after the death of Yadira Arroyo,” Nigro said, referring to the FDNY EMT who was killed last month as she and her partner tried to stop a 25-year-old man from hijacking their ambulance. 

Tolley is the 1,147th FDNY firefighter to die in the line of duty, Nigro said. 

Mayor de Blasio said he and Nigro met with Tolley's wife, Marie, in "a painful moment when a loved one learns that this was a last day of the life of someone they loved so deeply." 

"Everyone is in a state of shock and grief," the mayor said. 

The fire broke out shortly after 2 p.m. in a bedroom on the second floor of a five-story apartment building on Putnam Avenue in Ridgewood. 

Witnesses said they were watching fire crews battling the blaze when one of them fell. They described seeing a man falling to the sidewalk below. 

"The body just hit the pavement," one woman said. "Hearing the impact, you knew he couldn't survive that." 

It's unclear if Tolley was on the roof of the building or in the bucket of the ladder truck as he was working to ventilate heat rising up through the building. He had been standing inside the bucket at some point, but an investigation into how he fell and where he fell from is ongoing, officials said. 

The fire was contained to a bedroom several stories below Tolley, and Nigro said his death was not directly related to the fire. 

"It was really in the operation that he was performing on the roof, which is a routine operation for us, and, somehow, he fell from the roof," Nigro said. 

The commissioner said it's common for firefighters to ventilate areas above a fire and to rescue anyone who may be in danger at a window or on a fire escape. Firefighters may work from a tower ladder bucket or a roof-rope as they battle a fire and search for survivors.

Noberto Arellano said he was coming out of the apartment building when he looked up and saw a firefighter plummeting to the ground. He said it appeared the fire truck moved before the fall. 

"They move a little bit, they jump like this," Arellano said. "And they fell, that's how they fell." 

The fire was brought under control by 3 p.m., but a number of streets in the area were still closed hours later and there was a heavy FDNY presence at the scene. 

Three civilians suffered minor injuries in the blaze and were taken to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. 

Nigro said he and others in the FDNY are focused on comforting Tolley's wife and young daughter, whose world has taken a sudden and tragic turn. 

Tolley's family clung to each other Thursday night as his body was draped in an American flag and loaded into a waiting ambulance at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. Fellow members of the FDNY gave honorary salutes as the ambulance slowly departed.

At Thursday's press conference, Mayor de Blasio said Tolley knew the risks of being a firefighter but dedicated his life to it nevertheless. 

"A man dedicated to protecting others gave his life to this work and, like all members of the FDNY, understood every single day he was putting his life on the line, but he did it willingly in service of others," the mayor said.

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