FDNY investigation into firefighter's death will focus on ladder

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, April 21, 2017
Extended coverage: FDNY firefighter dies after line-of-duty fall
Extended coverage: FDNY firefighter dies after line-of-duty fallRob Nelson has the latest on the death of firefighter William Tolley.

RIDGEWOOD, Queens (WABC) -- The investigation into the death of a 14-year veteran firefighter of the FDNY in Queens will center on the firetruck ladder he was trying to use and the immediate moments before he fell.

Firefighter William Tolley, 42, of Bethpage, was killed when he fell to the ground while battling a fire at an apartment building in Ridgewood Thursday afternoon.

Investigators are reviewing video that shows the ladder on the Ladder 135 truck swaying as Tolley fell, which matches similar witness accounts. The firefighter may have been moving between the roof and the bucket at the top of the ladder.

Tolley was going to the roof to help ventilate the building, a routine maneuver. He was not fighting the fire, which officials said "was not under control, but was mainly extinguished" at the time.

The call came in at 2:20 p.m., and the truck's ladder was extended to the roof. Multiple eyewitnesses said the tower ladder suddenly jerked.

"I feel sad for his family, because I saw everything," witness Norberto Arellano said.

Tolley was rushed to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in critical condition. He died a short time later.

The autopsy completed Friday afternoon shows Tolley died from multiple blunt impact injuries, and that the manner of death is accidental.

PHOTOS: Firefighter killed in the line of duty

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FDNY Firefighter William Tolley, 42, of Bethpage, New York

A procession took his body from the medical examiner's office in Manhattan to a funeral home in Bethpage.

"Hearing the impact, you knew he couldn't survive that," witness Angie Cordero said. "It just sounded like a very big bang."

Related: Wake, funeral information released for firefighter William Tolley

The blaze was confined to an apartment at 1615 Putnam Ave., on the second floor, with three minor injuries. The five-story apartment building is just off Wyckoff Avenue.

A city official characterized the fire as a relatively minor second-alarm fire. It was placed under control at 3 p.m.

"There was nothing about the fire that really had anything to do with the accident that occurred," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "It was really in the operation he was performing on the roof, which is a routine operation for us, and somehow he fell from the roof."

Nigro said Friday that Fire Marshals have determined that incense left burning unattended in the bedroom of the apartment caused the fire.

Residents of the apartment were not present at the time of the fire, but had left incense burning in observance of a religious practice in the home, the FDNY said.

"Compounding the tragic loss of Firefighter Tolley's life is that the fire he responded to and fought bravely could have been prevented," said Nigro. "You should not leave objects such as incense or candles burning while unattended."

Marshals also determined there were no working smoke alarms in the apartment, causing a delay in discovery of the fire.

Tolley is survived by his wife, Marie; 8-year-old daughter, Isabella; brother, Bobby; and both of his parents. He spent his entire FDNY career with Ladder 135.

The last New York City firefighter to die in the line of duty happened in September, when an explosion at a marijuana grow house in the Bronx killed a fire battalion chief. Michael Fahy died after being hit by blast debris while responding to a report of a gas leak. Two men were arrested in that incident.

Last month, an FDNY EMT was fatally struck by her own ambulance after the vehicle was stolen. Yadira Arroyo, a mother of five sons, was responding to a routine call when she was flagged down by a pedestrian about a theft. Arroyo got out of the vehicle and a man darted into the driver's seat and ran over her, officials said.