Smoke still billowed from rubble five hours after an explosion at a house in the Bronx killed an FDNY chief Tuesday morning.
Battalion Chief Michael Fahy, a 17-year veteran of the FDNY and a father of three, was killed in the blast by falling debris just after 7:30 a.m. when a house at 304 W. 234th Street in Kingsbridge erupted.
Earlier in the morning, neighbors reported an odor of gas emanating from a private two-story home, prompting the fire department to evacuate the street.
“The smell of gas woke me up” at around 6 a.m., Adrianna Fellheimer said. “It was really strong. My chest was hurting.”
She and her husband Brian were the ones to call 911, potentially saving the lives of the dozens of residents who were cleared from the block.
Police arrived to investigate the source of the gas leak at the house—the focus of a tip to the NYPD two weeks ago as a possible drug lab or marijuana grow-house.
As they were investigating, the house blew up, killing Fahy and injuring nine firefighters, six police officers, three Con Edison workers and two civilians who were treated at New York Presbyterian – Allen Hospital.
Local residents were visibly shaken by the massive explosion that turned a part of their block into a miniature ground zero.
With tears in her eyes, one woman said the situation reminded her of 9/11 because she had a feeling of uselessness though she wanted to help.
“I thought it was thunder but when I went outside a boy with soot on his face was running down the street and screaming ‘the house just exploded in my face’,” said the woman, who requested that her name not be used.
Jonathan Bonifas, 24, who lives four houses down on the same block, said he was quaked from his sleep and ran outside. Debris, including a large piece of a gutter, flew more than 200 feet and was smoking on his front yard.
Bonifas said that the house, which was recently owned by a doctor and his daughter, had new tenants who let the yard grow wild. He said he noticed no suspicious activity, such as that which might be evident at an illegal drug lab.
"My dad had my mom go over and trim a big rose bush that was coming over the fence and knocking people on the head,” Bonifas said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, one of the home's renters was reportedly taken into custody in Cliffside, New Jersey, by the Regional Fugitive Task Force. Julio Salcedo, 34, was arrested on a warrant for a petty crime, according to the New York Post.
“It’s a very sad day for our city,” Mayor de Blasio said about the loss of Battalion Chief Fahy at a news conference following the incident.
Fahy is the FDNY's highest ranking member to die in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the first member to be killed since July 2014.
He had first become a firefighter in 1999. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2004, to captain in 2007 and to battalion chief in 2012, and was currently serving in the Bronx.
“We lost a hero today and our members are all saddened,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said of the "rising star."
He said that the tragedy served as a “reminder of the dangers first responders face every day.” Nigro, who had served with Fahy’s father, a former fire chief, added it was not only a loss for the fallen firefighter’s family, but the entire department.
Authorities are still investigating the source of the reported gas odor and explosion.