As the 10-year anniversary of September 11, 2001 looms, we reflect upon the anniversary of the tragic Waldbaum’s fire, 33 years ago today, heretofore the greatest loss of life for the FDNY in Brooklyn until the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Firefighter George Rice, 38, of Ladder 153; FF James McManus, 48; Cov. Lt. James Cutillo, 39, 33rd Battalion; FF Harold Hastings, 39, 42nd Battalion; FF Charles Bouton, 38, Ladder 156; and William O’Connor, 29 of Ladder 156 all lost their lives on August 2, 1978 when the roof of the supermarket at Ocean Avenue and Avenue Y collapsed at approximately 9:02 a.m. A total of 12 firefighters fell into the belly of the raging inferno, and 34 additional firefighters were also wounded in a desperate attempt to save their fellow brothers.
As we reported last year:
In 1999, the city renamed the corner “Firemen’s Corner,” in what is said to be the last public dedication to honor the fallen heroes.
A Facebook page frequently visited by family and friends also keeps the memory of those who passed alive, as does an annual mass held this morning at St. Brendans Church. You can also read the account of Steve Spak, another FDNY photographer on the scene that morning.
As we also reported, JGDwyerPhotography’s John G. Dwyer, who has photographed the FDNY for more than 30 years, created a haunting montage recalling the tragic day, and paying tribute to those hero firefighters, whose supreme sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that the 1978 Waldbaum’s fire was “heretofore the greatest loss of life for the FDNY until the terrorist attacks on 9/11.” As astute reader “Kp” points out, the greatest loss of life suffered by the FDNY was actually the Madison Green five-alarm blaze in October 1966, which resulted in the deaths of 12 firefighters. The Waldbaum’s fire represented the FDNY’s biggest pre-9/11 loss of life in Brooklyn only. Our apologies for the confusion.