By Brieann Rich / Wintergreen News
Thousands of firefighters from across the United States and Canada gathered to pay respect to Buffalo (NY) Fire Department members Charles “Chip” McCarthy and Jonathan Croom, who were killed when a floor collapsed beneath them during an early morning fire.
Firefighters lined the streets surrounding St. Josephs Cathedral in Buffalo, New York, wearing their dress blues at 9 am on Friday, August 28, 2009. They spoke quietly amongst themselves, greeting each other and exchanging condolences. The sounds of birds, the wind and the city traffic could be heard above the crowd. The American flag flew high above, suspended from two ladder trucks.
Shortly before 10, sirens rang out in the distance; firefighters looked around seeking them out at they drew ever closer. Then, thousands of firefighters all came to attention and saluted as Buffalo (NY) Fire Department’s Rescue 1 Paraded slowly past, followed shortly thereafter by an engine carrying the flag draped casket of Lt. McCarthy. The engine stopped in front of the cathedral and McCarthy’s casket was carried inside while the Washington (DC) Fire Department’s Emerald Society played the bagpipes and drums.
McCarthy was “a proud second generation firefighter, he followed in his father’s and uncle’s footsteps 22 years ago into the Buffalo Fire Department. And By all accounts, Chip made his own way and left his own legacy,” said Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), during his eulogy. “He was committed, duty bound, ready to serve in the hardest and most rewarding job imaginable as an officer in one of this department’s elite units.”
Schaitberger presented McCarthy’s family with the IAFF’s Medal of Honor and stated that McCarthy’s name would be etched on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“He told us countless times, you were his brothers,” said McCarthy’s son, Charles McCarthy III. “He knew you would be there for him. And we know you were,” McCarthy’s son continued, addressing the team of Rescue 1.
McCarthy is survived by his wife Terri, daughters Stephanie and Shannon; son Charles; granddaughter Taliana; Father Charles W. McCarthy Sr.; mother Marilyn McCarthy; and brother Dan McCarthy.
When the 90-minute mass and eulogies for Lt. McCarthy were completed, his casket was carried by eight pall bearers, his son and brother among them. They placed his casket into a gray hearse as a single bagpipe played Amazing Grace and firefighters stood at attention, saluting the lieutenant one last time.
Firefighters took a break from standing at attention and were provided with lunch and a place to sit and rest while the cathedral directors and officials prepared for the second funeral procession of the day, for Firefighter Croom.
At 1pm, firefighters lined up, once again, standing shoulder to shoulder, filling the streets surrounding St. Josephs Cathedral. A low rumble was heard as Buffalo Police Department motorcycles escorted the procession of Firefighter Jonathan Croom to the front of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The Buffalo Fire Department engine carrying the flag draped casket of Firefighter Croom approached the front of the cathedral preceded by Croom’s unit, Ladder 7, the Emerald Society bagpipes and drummers, and the thousands of firefighters tirelessly standing at attention and saluting their fallen brother.
The “Celebration of Life” for Croom began as the church bells rang out at 2 p.m.
Firefighter Jonathan Croom was 34 years old and a 10=year veteran of the Buffalo Fire Department, assigned to Ladder 7 second platoon.
“There is nothing more admirable than the type of bravery these two firefighters demonstrated earlier this week. I’m here today to express the heartbreak of the city (of Buffalo),” said Mayor Byron Brown during Croom’s service.
“Beloved by those he worked alongside at Ladder 7, he received what is the most important compliment you can receive on our job, and that’s one from your own crew who tells us he was a good solid firefighter and he will sorely be missed,” Schaitberger said in his eulogy of Croom.
“I’ll think about his last moments and where he was. I’ll think about that fire. I’ll think about that basement and I’ll pray and I’ll wish that he wasn’t awake.” Said Croom’s mother, Angie Heusinger. “Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Croom is survived by his daughter Joanna; parents Jonathan Croom and Maria Heusinger; brothers Gabriel and Beau Croom; grandmother Ana Diaz; and his fiancée Ingrid Perugachi, who is expecting their second child in a few weeks.
Croom’s family was also presented with an IAFF Medal of Honor and his name will be etched on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs/.
When the Celebratory Mass was completed, Croom’s casket was carried by eight pall bearers, including his father and both brothers, back to the engine for the procession to the cemetery. Firefighters continued to stand at attention and solute Firefighter Croom one last time as the procession left the cathedral.
Lt. McCarthy and Firefighter Croom were killed in the line of duty at the Super Speedy Deli Fire on Genesee Street in Buffalo, New York, on August 24, 2009. They had entered the first floor of the two-story structure after witnesses reported hearing cries for help from inside. Shortly after, the floor collapsed and both firefighters fell into the basement. Other responding firefighters were unable to rescue the down firefighters before they lost their lives. According to the IAFF Firefighters Web site, Autopsy results say they died of smoke inhalation.