FDNY, Community Mourn Loss Of Veteran Firefighter Who Died In Fall From Roof In Queens

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Firefighters are mourning the loss of one of their own after veteran firefighter William Tolley fell five stories to his death while battling a fire in Queens.

A wake will be held at the Chapey and Sons Funeral Home in Bethpage next Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Martin of Tours.

A bunting ceremony was held Friday at Ladder 135 Engine 286 as a makeshift memorial for Tolley continues to grow.

Loved ones, including his grieving widow and daughter were on hand for the ceremony.

Those who worked side by side with Tolley and his brother Robert said to Billy — as many called him — family came first, and the job he did so well was a close second.

“I’m the older brother of my baby brother, firefighter William Tolley, who gave his life yesterday doing what he loved to do, serving the community, working with his brothers,” Robert said.

Robert sobbed as he spoke of William’s love for his brothers with the FDNY.

“They were with him in his final moments, because I could not be. And I’ll always be grateful for that,” he said.

“He was the guy that we all wanted, he always wanted to take charge, he always wanted to be the one going in, if something needed to be done, didn’t need to ask, it was already done by Billy. He showed the way, he was a leader,” firefighter Rich Blasi added.

Earlier in the day, scores of firefighters saluted Tolley as his casket was carried into a funeral home on Long Island.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the bravest who serve at the fire station have a nickname — ‘The Myrtle Turtles.’ They perform every day heroics that make the job look easy, but Tolley’s death reminds the city that he served that even a routine fire run can be deadly.

Police Patrol Union President, Pat Lynch was among those paying respect at the firehouse.

When pre-schoolers stopped by with flowers, it was hard not to think about a young Bill Tolley — he had dreamed of a career with the FDNY.

“I honor him and his family. He is a true hero,” said resident Donna Nielsen.

A mile from the firehouse, at the scene of the tragedy, an off duty cop stopped by with flowers.

On the roof there were no signs of the tragic events of Thursday afternoon, but the view down Putnam Avenue gives a chilling perspective of the dangers of working at such a height.

Tolley went about his day-to-day business Thursday, unaware that the call his firehouse would receive that afternoon would be his last.

He stopped in a deli at the corner at around 8 a.m. on a breakfast run for the station.

“He got one pound bacon, then he came back and got two dozen eggs,” deli worker Hameed Mozeb told CBS2’s Magdalena Doris. “He was making breakfast for the guys. A very good guy. I know this guy a long time.”

At 12:30 p.m., Tolley walked into a bakery two doors down on a mission to find cupcakes for an upcoming first communion celebration.

“He came by looking for something for a communion,” baker worker Sue Shiwdin told WCBS 880’s Myles Miller. She said it was “just mind-boggling” that the baker might have been his last stop.

Two hours later, Tolley, 42, was responding to a fire at a single unit apartment on Putnam Avenue. It was a routine job and his positioning was standard procedure when extinguishing a fire.

Tolley was standing on the roof of the five-story building when something went terribly wrong. The 14-year FDNY veteran fell to his death.

“I seen the fireman go up the ladder, go in the white thing, the bucket,” said witness Michael Lewis. “Then the ladder shakes. I don’t know why it jerks or shakes but after it shakes, he fall out.”

At a construction site behind the fire scene, a man who works on a lift told CBS2’s Aiello that the bucket sometimes gets caught or lodged on brickwork or a building facade.

He said co-workers who witnessed Tolley fall believe that’s what happened to the bucket he was in.

“They describe a – the bucket looked like it was lodged. Next thing you know it was dislodged, and just spring him out,” he said.

Shock and agony spread through the fire company as members stood by horrified and heartbroken while witnesses watched in shock.

“For me, this guy went out as a hero,” said witness Norberto Arellano. “He was doing his job.”

Investigators have taken possession of the ladder truck and will examine every inch searching for clue, answers, and understanding. The fire was apparently sparked by incense left unattended.

Standing at attention with their hands held to their forehead in salute, members of the FDNY honored their fallen brother as he was carried out from Wycoff Medical Center Thursday night.

“A man dedicated to protecting others gave his life for this city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday, adding Tolley “made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Investigators are still working to understand what went wrong, and whether it was mechanical or human failure that caused Tolley to fall, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

“It was really in the operation that he was performing on the roof, which is a routine operation for us, and somehow he fell from the roof,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who called Tolley’s death “a terrible tragedy for the department.”

Tolley is from Bethpage, Long Island. He leaves behind his wife, Maria, 8-year-old daughter Isabella, his brother and parents.

Friends say next to his family and job,Tolley had another passion as the drummer in a band called “Internal Bleeding” which he helped form at age 16.

His band mates are in a state of shock.

“He always made me laugh and I don’t know how I’m gonna go on,” said friend Chris Pervelis. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do without him. He’s my best friend.”

On Friday, Nassau Country Executive Edward Mangano ordered flags be flown at half-staff through April 27 in honor and respect for the Long Island native.

“My wife Linda and I express our deepest sympathies to the family of fallen FDNY Firefighter William Tolley, a Bethpage resident, Bethpage Volunteer Firefighter and former Hicksville Volunteer Firefighter who tragically died in the line of duty while battling a fire yesterday,” Mangano said in a statement. “May God welcome William into his arms and watch over his wife Marie and daughter Isabella.”

The flag is also flying at half staff outside Tolley’s home in Bethpage, as a steady stream of family, friends and firefighters stopped by to pay their respects, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.

“It’s the second one in our neighborhood, it’s not fair,” one resident said. “A few weeks ago we lost another member — the police officer from 9/11, from cancer. So it’s very hard for neighbors.”

Neighbors told CBS2’s Jessica Borg that Tolley would regularly check up on everyone.

“He helped me with everything. He used to blow up the tires for me, so I could go jogging, the snow blowing, he always helped me with that,” Rachel Galletti said.

Galletti said Tolley was a constant presence at their kids’ schools.

“It’s gonna be sad not to see him there,” she said.

Tolley lived in Bethpage with his wife and daughter, but also served the local community as an active volunteer in the Bethpage Fire Department.

Owen Magee — a former Hicksville Fire Chief — said Tolley was passionate about the job, and a pleasure to work with.

“He was a gentleman. Some guys are gruff and everything like that. he was never like that, never an excitable person or anything like that,” Magee said.

The FDNY Foundation has set up a William N. Tolley’s Children’s Educational Fund. To donate, visit and select the fund from the drop down menu.

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