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
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
"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
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