It was Fathers Day, June 17, 2001. It rained hard for most of the previous day into mid-morning on Fathers Day. I had my scanner turned off. My wife went shopping. I was home watching my 6 year old daughter. My friend Marty called me to tell me to hurry up! put the scanner on, There is an explosion in Queens, and there are firefighters trapped! I quickly put the radio on and heard the urgent transmission for a third alarm and to have numerous EMS units respond forthwith! I quickly grabbed my camera & video equipment and my 6 year old and drove to the supermarket to find my wife. I left my daughter with my wife and responded to the scene of the explosion and collapse. It took about 15 minutes to respond to Astoria from Bayside, Queens. I parked about 2 blocks away and ran towards the scene. When I arrived the first thing I noticed was a heavy smoke condition coming from a partially collapsed hardware store. It looked like the front of the store was still intact. The left side of the store was collapsed. There were numerous firefighters looking through the rubble for trapped members. Across the street were numerous injured firefighters sitting up against a building. The scene was one of utter chaos. I had heard that 3 firefighters were missing. Firefighters had handlines knocking down and keeping away the fire from firefighters who were searching the rubble. I went around to the front of the hardware store. Firefighters were desperately trying to gain entry into the building. Numerous handlines were operating into the front of the store, trying to knock down the heavy fire condition so firefighters could gain entry. I returned to the collapsed side of the hardware store. Battalion Chief Ray Downey, who was the chief of the Special Operation Command, had just arrived at the scene. Chief Downey had immediately restored order to the chaotic scene. Within minutes firefighters found Harry Ford 50, from Rescue Company 4 and John Downing 40, from Ladder Company 163, burred in the rubble. Desperately, firefighters began to dig them out. At this time Mayor Guiliani and Fire Commissioner Von Essen arrived at the scene. I heard the Commissioner tell the mayor that thing did not look good, there were three members trapped in the rubble. I was behind the mayor & Commissioner when Harry Ford and John Downing were pulled out and rushed out to an awaiting ambulance. Things looked bad as rescuers were performing CPR on Harry Ford, as they rushed him to the ambulance. I went back to the front of the fire building. Firefighters were continuing the desperate search for firefighter Brian Fahey 46, from Rescue Company 4, who was trapped in the basement. Immediately after the explosion and collapse Firefighter Fahey gave a MAYDAY, saying he was trapped somewhere in the basement. Due to the heavy fire conditions and the collapse of the building, and after numerous desperate attempts, firefighters could not reach firefighter Fahey in time. His body was recovered a few hours later.
After watching this tragedy unfolding before my eyes, I could not help feel that this was one of the worst days in the history of the FDNY. I did not think it could be possible for anything as bad as this to ever happen again, but little did we know that 9/11 was less than three months away.

Firefighters Harry Ford & John Downing have just been located in the rubble.

Firefighters dig frantically to free the trapped firefighters.

First Deputy Fire Commissioner Bill Feehan (Who was later killed on 9/11/01) and Fire Commissioner Von Essen watch the ongoing rescue operation.

Numerous handlines knock down fire so that firefighters can gain entry into the building.

Firefighters make a desperate attempt to reach firefighter Fahey, who is trapped in the building.

B.C.Ray Downey ( Who was killed on 9-11-01) restored order and leads the rescue operation.

Numerous firefighters were injured, some seriously.

Chief Donald Burns ( Who was killed on 9-11-01) directs operations at the Command Post.

Members operate on the collapsed side of the fire building.

Firefighters are searching the rubble for more possible victims.

The Fire Commissioner tells the Mayor that "things don't look good".

This photo was taken on the following day.

Harry Ford is being rushed to an awaiting ambulance. This photo has a special significance to me. In this Photo, Lee Ielpi, A highly decorated retired firefighter from Rescue Company 2, responded from his home on Long Island after hearing the job on his scanner. His son Jonathan, a firefighter assigned to Squad Company 288, which responded on the All Hands is also in the photo as they rush Harry to the ambulance. Jonathan was one of 343 firefighters killed in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

Jonathan Ielpi was following in his fathers footsteps, Lee is a "Great Man" and he is currently helping the Coalition of 9/11 families. We must "Never Forget" 9/11/01.

Harry Ford's funeral later that week.

Members of Rescue 4 are pallbearers.

A lone piper is playing "Amazing Grace" as the procession enters the church.

Harry's final ride.

Harry was a Great Guy and a "Great Firefighter", He was like a mayor, everyone knew Harry, he is loved by all & will be missed, his memory will always live on!

Although I did not know Brian, He was also known as a "Great guy and Firefighter". and will be missed by all.


FOR MORE INFORMATION e-mail: Steven Spak

[Return to Main page]