The widow of the New York City firefighter from Bethpage who died while battling a blaze in Queens on Thursday thanked the FDNY and the city’s residents Monday for the support her family has received in recent days.
That support includes a pledge from a charity named for a FDNY member who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks to pay the mortgage on the family’s house in Bethpage.
Speaking publicly for the first time since her husband, William Tolley, 42, fell to his death in Ridgewood, Marie Tolley said the firefighter would appreciate the outpouring of love and respect since his death.
“I know Billy would be so grateful and proud because he loved this job,” Marie Tolley said through tears, the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Bella, at her side, at a news conference outside the deceased firefighter’s Ladder 135 firehouse in Glendale, Queens. “Thank you to everyone who has sent their prayers and condolences to our family, and to his firehouse.”
Tolley fell five stories while battling a fire on Putnam Avenue on Thursday afternoon and was later pronounced dead at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Authorities said the blaze was caused by incense left unattended in a second-floor apartment.
Investigators believe the 14-year FDNY veteran fell to his death after being jolted from a raised fire truck bucket before he could put on a safety harness.
An FDNY spokesman said Tolley’s death remains under investigation.
“Bella and I, and our entire family, are trying to get through this together, but we just want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to the firefighters here that worked with Billy and everyone in the FDNY who has been with us every second,” Marie Tolley said.
The Tolley family won’t have to worry about paying for the roof over their heads, thanks to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, created to honor Stephen Siller, an FDNY firefighter killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
At Monday’s news conference, organization officials announced they will pay off the mortgage for the fallen firefighter’s home.
“We know this takes a lot of pressure off the family,” said Tunnel to Towers chief executive Frank Siller, Stephen Siller’s brother. “It is one less burden they will have to think about.”
Friends gathered in front of the growing memorial outside Tolley’s Myrtle Avenue firehouse after the news conference to share stories and memories about their colleague.
FDNY Capt. Rich Blasi said Tolley’s death is a big blow to Ladder 135.
“He was the morale booster,” Blasi said, adding that “it put me at ease to know that I had a guy like Billy out in the field. I knew things would get done right. I had the sense I had my best guy out there. This is a huge loss to the house and to me.”
Firefighter Brian Hinson said Tolley was constantly tinkering to make improvements at the firehouse and on the company’s rig.
“He had these grandiose ideas of how to make things better,” Hinson remembered, laughing. “A mechanic would come in to fix our rig and Billy would get right in there with him. He’d be greasier than the mechanic.”
Jay Liff, a longtime friend and the bass player in Tolley’s speed metal band Internal Bleeding, said he enjoyed the long conversations he had with the firefighter/drummer during tours of the United States and Europe.
“Sometimes it was like the show got in the way,” Liff said. “We’d get to a club and it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we have to do a show.’ I would rather continue hanging out with Billy, laughing and busting chops. . . . Billy got to live both his dreams, with the band and the FDNY.”
Tolley’s wake will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in Bethpage. Visiting hours are scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Martin of Tours Church in Bethpage.
Frank Siller said the foundation has paid off mortgages for the families of 11 other first responders who have died in the line of duty. The first recipients were the families of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed by a gunman in Brooklyn in 2014.
Siller said the foundation has spent about $3 million to cover mortgages over the past 2 1⁄2 years. He said the foundation won’t be able to continue its assistance without financial support from the public.
“This is important stuff we are doing,” Siller said. “We need the community’s help.”