NEW YORK (AP) — A star battalion chief at the Fire Department of New York was killed Tuesday morning when a house explosion rocked a Bronx neighborhood, jolting residents out of their beds, authorities and witnesses said.
Michael Fahy, a 17-year veteran and a father of three, was rushed to a hospital but could not be saved.
The house and surrounding buildings, in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, had been evacuated before the 7:30 a.m. blast following a gas leak report. Fahy was directing operations from the street when he was hit by falling debris, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro and Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a hospital briefing.
Investigators were working to determine whether the location was a marijuana grow house, said police Commissioner James O’Neill.
The force of the blast moved mugs in a cabinet several houses away, according to resident Mary Lahti, who also had dust covering her furniture.
Fahy, who was promoted to chief in June 2012, had a doctorate from New York Law School. He got his undergraduate degree from New York’s Binghamton University in 1994 and his master’s degree at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Naval Postgraduate School, according to education records.
“He was on the rise; he was a star,” said Nigro. The chief said he was a contemporary of Fahy’s father, who had been a fire chief before his son.
Residents milled around in the aftermath: debris strewn on the street and covering parked cars; the former house a mangled heap of walls, wiring and twisted metal. Authorities said the house had renters, and they were looking into who they were.
“The explosion felt like a bomb on my house,” said Nicholas Kolotouros, who lives across the street. “We got scared, and we jumped out of bed. We didn’t know what it was.”
Within minutes, police told him to leave his house, one of a lineup of two-story homes on a tree-lined street.
Lahti woke up around 6:30 a.m. “smelling something odd, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” she said. “It didn’t smell like gas, really.”
She went back to sleep. The explosion woke her up an hour later. “I thought it was a car that ran into the house, the way the house shook. I was jolted out of bed,” she said.
“When I looked out the window, it was a lot of smoke, a lot of smoke,” Lahti said. Hours later, occasional whiffs of smoke still floated over the neighborhood.
“It’s scary,” she said. “And that’s why you have to be aware of what’s going on around you.”
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this report.