Two NYFD firefighters die after N.Y. fire; one rookie, one 20-year veteran

BY LUIS PEREZ
Newsday (New York)
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.

A rookie New York City firefighter who served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and a veteran lieutenant were killed after a group of firefighters fell through the floor of a burning Bronx building, officials said.

Firefighter Michael Reilly, 25, of Engine 75 in the Bronx, and Lt. Howard Carpluk, 43, of Engine 42 in the Bronx, were inside when the floor in the one-story building gave way beneath them, trapping the two and three others in a cocoon of debris in the basement just before 1 p.m.

Reilly, of Sleepy Hollow, grew up in Ramsey, N.J., where he once served as a volunteer firefighter. He joined the Marines in 2000 and was a sergeant in the Marine Reserves. Reilly was rescued from the rubble and rushed to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead, officials said. An official with the Ramsey Rescue Squad described Reilly as fearless and said he believed he served a one-year tour in Iraq two years ago.

Officials said Reilly apparently died from heart failure and suffered no burns in the fall. Family members could not be reached for comment.

Lt. Howard Carpluk, 43, of Engine 42 in the Bronx, who also fell into the basement, was listed in extremely critical condition yesterday at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center before being transferred to the cardiac support center at Montefiore Medical Center. Department officials did not list Carpluk's hometown, but records show the 20-year veteran is a resident of Yaphank. He died Monday of injuries he suffered as a result of the fall.

The deaths marked another sad day for the New York City Fire Department, which is just two weeks away from commemorating the loss of 343 men on Sept. 11, 2001. Yesterday's fire, in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx, occurred a mile from a building where two firefighters jumped four stories to their deaths on Jan. 23, 2005, a day known in the department as "Black Sunday."

"The loss of any of our bravest in the line of duty is a blow to the heart of our city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at an impromptu news conference at the hospital.

The three-alarm fire broke out in a building that housed a 99-cent store and left 21 firefighters, from a battalion chief to rank-and-file firefighters, with smoke inhalation and other minor injuries, officials said. Only Carpluk's injuries were listed as critical. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Officials said that workers at the store called 911 after the glass on a refrigerator shattered in an unexplained explosion. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had started, officials said.

The fire, which department officials said was not deemed suspicious, burned for four hours before it was extinguished, officials said. Two hours into battling it, the blaze became a rescue operation when the floor gave way. More than 130 firefighters were at the scene, many of whom toiled to get an oxygen hose to the trapped firefighters in the basement.

A spokeswoman for the city buildings department said that the building had no history of structural problems.

Reilly had begun his firefighting career in his hometown in New Jersey, said Erik Endress, president of the volunteer Ramsey Rescue Squad.

"He is definitely cut from that cloth of run-into-the-fire guys," said Endress, who said Reilly joined in 1997, after high school. "He's a tough guy, right in your face. I'm sure he was making a great accomplishment for himself in the FDNY very quickly, as he did with us."

Evelyn Scharff, 37, who lives next door to Carpluk in Yaphank, described him as a trusted family friend, someone who has helped keep her pool clean and has been friendly with her children.

"He has the biggest heart. He seemed very dedicated to his work," Scharff said. She said that Carpluk has two children, a boy and a girl. Another neighbor, Craig Caruana, 30, said, "He was a great neighbor. He'd help make sure the fire hydrants were clear [of snow]."

According to officials, the three other men who fell into the basement are with other Bronx fire houses, including Lt. John Grasso, 45, of Engine 92; Battalion Chief Thomas Auer, 47, of Battalion 17; and firefighter Wayne Walters, 30, a four-year veteran from Engine 75, officials said. They are listed in serious but stable condition at Jacobi Medical Center, officials said.

At the news conference, Bloomberg, who alluded to Reilly's service in Iraq, said he had met Reilly at a recent ceremony inducting him into the fire department, and added that he also met Reilly's father, an accountant, who told him his son always wanted to be a firefighter.

"He was somebody who I shook hands with and congratulated only four months ago," the mayor said.
 

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