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 Remembering Our Tragedy 50 Years Ago

Story by Ex-Captain Steve Grogan:  Photos by John Cribbin and Steve Grogan

 

This April 30th will mark the 50th Anniversary of the tragic crash of two Lynbrook fire trucks which took the lives of three volunteer firefighters and a school crossing guard.

On that fateful day in 1963, just after 12 o’clock noon, and right after a rain storm, the Lynbrook Fire Department responded to a reported house fire at 331 Earle Avenue. Engine Company No. 1 from the Carpenter Avenue firehouse responded with six volunteers aboard and proceeded through the village and headed north on Hempstead Avenue to Peninsula Boulevard. Tally-Ho Engine Company No. 3 from the Horton Avenue firehouse, also responding with six volunteers, headed east on Merrick Road onto Peninsula.  At the same time, Mrs. Rosalie Roy, a Lynbrook school crossing guard was crossing children at the intersection of Hempstead and Peninsula. 

Both fire engines with their lights blazing and their sirens and horns blowing loudly were driving towards the same intersection.  Mrs. Roy apparently saw the fire engines approaching from opposite directions and possibly sensing a collision ran back into the intersection trying to stop them.  She had just walked a student from Our Lady of Peace across the intersection.  It was reported back then that both drivers may have believed Mrs. Roy was in the intersection to stop vehicular traffic for the benefit of their fire truck.

At approximately 12:08 PM the two fire trucks entered the intersection at the same time. The drivers could not stop on the rain slicked roadway and they collided with the sound of twisted metal that was louder than the blaring sirens and horns. Tally-Ho smashed into the rear of Engine Company and spun it around in the intersection striking Mrs. Roy before she had time to run back to the curb. She was hurled to the lawn in front of the Penbrook apartment building on the northeast corner.  She died instantly.  Engine Company also knocked down a light pole on the corner before stopping 20 feet north of the intersection. The street was littered with the bodies of the volunteers who had been thrown from their trucks.

A total of nine firefighters were injured in the accident. The most seriously was William Koch, age 57, of 64 Marion Street, Peter Moody, 21, of 41 Marion Street, and Joseph Fisher, 36, of 21 Marion Street, who were all riding on the back step of Engine Company.  Also injured, but less seriously was Peter Skeris of 114 Stevenson Street, who was on Tally-Ho and thrown from his truck. All the injured were taken to Mercy Hospital where Koch died upon arrival. Moody and Fisher remained in critical condition. Skeris was later released. Other firefighters injured were treated at the accident scene and sent home.

On May 2, 1963, Moody died from his injuries.  Fisher died the following day. In all, three volunteers and a school crossing guard were killed in the line of duty in one of the Village of Lynbrook’s worst tragedies since the village was incorporated in 1911. Only the deaths of five members of the Levy family in a house fire two years before the accident claimed more lives.

In newspaper articles written after the accident the crash was attributed to “the treacherous surface of Peninsula Blvd.” It was also reported that the “road surface was slippery with oil and water.” Accounts further said that Engine Company was late getting out of the firehouse due to engine trouble. The papers said, “Otherwise, both trucks would never have been in that intersection.” Another newspaper reported that Engine Company had been stopped at Five Corners by a bus that had blocked that intersection. Neither of the fire engines was reported to have been speeding at the time of the accident. The fire call that the two trucks were responding to turned out to be a malfunctioning steam valve on a furnace.

Firefighter Koch, an employee of Ruppert’s Brewery in Brooklyn, was the secretary of Engine Company, and a member of the VFW after serving with the Navy Seabees in the Pacific during World War II. Koch left behind a wife and a daughter. Firefighter Moody was not married and had only been a volunteer for two years. He was survived by his mother, father, brothers and a sister. Firefighter Fisher, an oil burner mechanic, was also a veteran who served in World War II as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He left behind his widow. Mrs. Rosalie Roy, a mother of three, had worked as a crossing guard for the village for three years.

The names of the three firefighters killed in this tragic accident are remembered at the Firefighter’s Memorial at the corner of Sunrise Highway and Earle Avenue.  Each year in October, Lynbrook firefighters remember them and three others who have died in the line of duty for this village.  A separate stone honoring Mrs. Roy is located on the lawn in front of the apartments at 60 Hempstead Avenue at the corner of Peninsula Boulevard where she died in the performance of her duties.  

On Sunday, April 28, 2013, at 9 AM, the members of Engine Company, along with the membership of the Lynbrook Fire Department, who have never forgotten their fellow firefighters, will once again gather at the Firefighter's Memorial to honor those that died that day so many years ago.

  

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Revised: 19 Feb 2017 16:33:06 -0500 .

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