NY's Bravest remember fallen firefighters

7 Online - October 18, 2006

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(New York - WABC, October 17, 2006) - We all know that September 11th was the deadliest day in the history of the New York Fire Department.

But before 9/11, there was another horrific day.

Forty years ago, 12 of New York's Finest were killed battling a fire, and today a new memorial was unveiled to honor them.

Eyewitness News reporter Tim Fleischer has more.

As they remember 12 good fireman, raindrops fell like the tears did on this day 40 years ago.

"I didn't realize they were gone until later on," said Manny Fernandez, of Engine 18, which was one of the first companies to respond to the fire at the Wonder Drug Store on 23rd Street near Broadway.

A dozen firefighters, of all ranks, were inside battling the inferno when the floor collapsed, taking them to their deaths.

"Once it failed, that masonry failed, everything came with it and it went very, very suddenly," Chief of Fire Prevention Howard Hill said.

"It was, of course, the biggest loss of life that this department ever suffered before 9/11," New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.

Of those 12 brave men whose flag-draped caskets were brought to St. Patrick's Cathedral, there was William McCarron.

"I opened the door, and it was the priest," McCarron's former wife Winifred Jennings said. "And I slammed the door. Maybe they'll go away. But I knew what it was."

McCarron left behind his wife, Winifred, and three sons. William is remembered for his bravery.

"He loved what he did, and he died doing what he was happy doing," son George McCarron said.

Huddled under a tent for this 40th anniversary were many of the 32 children who lost their fathers that night.

Only one of those, Joe Finley, went on to follow in his father's footsteps. But in a strange twist of fate, his nephew Brian has been assigned to Ladder 7, the same company as his grandfather.

"It feels good to be there, knowing that I'm carrying on that tradition," Brian Finley said. "Both for the city and for my family."

And everyday, when he comes into work, Brian Finley passes the shield in honor of those fallen firefighters.

So as they honor these 12 brave men, and all of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, they answer their calls vowing to never forget.