This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Anthony M. DeStefano, Alison Fox, Chau Lam, Robert E. Kessler, Paul LaRocco and John Valenti.
Falling debris from an explosion that blew the roof off a home in the Bronx early Tuesday killed a fire chief considered a rising star in the FDNY and injured a dozen other people.
Police officials said that a man seen leaving the building before the explosion as firefighters arrived was being questioned Tuesday night by the joint federal fugitive task force.
Sources identified the man as Julio Salcedo and said he had been arrested on a misdemeanor warrant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey by taskforce members. The sources said Salcedo had rented space inside the home that exploded and he was seen fleeing from the scene.
The deceased firefighter, Battalion Chief Michael J. Fahy, 44, of Yonkers, was a 17-year veteran who leaves behind his wife, Fiona, and three children, ages 6, 8 and 11.
Fahy, who was supervising the scene, was the son of Battalion Chief Thomas Fahy. He was considered to be a “rising star, a brave man” in the firefighter ranks, said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
After firefighters had arrived at the location to investigate an odor of gas they discovered a large number of marijuana plants and fertilizer, said the official. Police were then called and were on the scene when the explosion occurred.
The blast not only demolished the two-story attached brick dwelling but spewed marijuana plants all over the surrounding area, over fences and sidewalks, the official noted. Police had the site cordoned off as the investigation continued.
“We lost a hero today and our members are all saddened,” Nigro said at a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill at the Allen Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian in upper Manhattan.
“It’s a terrible loss. . . . We are a family. We feel it deeply. We feel it deeply today,” Nigro said as his voice cracked and de Blasio put a hand on his back. The mayor ordered that flags on city-owned building be flown at half-staff in Fahy’s memory.
“Chief Fahy was fatally struck with a portion of that building, was brought here as quickly as possible, but he was not to be saved,” the fire commissioner said.
Nine other firefighters, six NYPD officers, three Con Edison worker and two civilians were injured when the roof blew off the house shortly before 7 a.m. and struck the victims, who were standing in the street, officials said.
None of those had life-threatening injuries, officials said.
Fahy’s wife and parents were at the hospital, and de Blasio said he saw “the unspeakable pain when they were told formally that they lost Michael.”
The police commissioner said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation, and detectives were looking to interview people who might have been renting the house.
City records show there was a complaint in October 2011 of an “illegal basement” in the house. The records indicate city inspectors were unable to get access to the house in two attempts in February 2012, but do not indicate any other action.
Sheila O’Rourke, a retired nurse who lives a block away, said the explosion sent confused neighbors into the street. “A ton of smoke. It really reached really high up in the sky,” she said. “It shook my house, shook me, followed by a big blast of smoke.”
Maria Guzman, 61, who lives across the street, was in the bathroom getting ready to go work.
“In my house, it sounded like a bomb went off,” Guzman said in a telephone interview. “All my windows are shattered. The sky light came completely down, and part of my roof — many shingles came down.”
Guzman said she believes a couple moved into the house eight or nine months ago, but she doesn’t know who they are.
“That house was completely on fire, Guzman said. “I don’t know if it was a gas explosion but it was big.”
Jim Lahti, 61, a music arranger and composer, said he was sound asleep when the explosion woke him.
“It felt like an earthquake or somebody hadn’t stopped at the intersection and plowed their car through our fence,” Lahti said in a telephone interview.
Lahti said he got dressed and walked down the block to the house that blew up.
“There were a couple walls still standing but the house was basically obliterated,” Lahti said. “You could see interior walls. Everything was so damaged that it didn’t look like a house anymore.”
Fahy graduated from North Rockland High School and later attended Binghamton University and New York Law School before joining the FDNY in 1999. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2004, to captain in 2007 and to battalion chief in 2012.
On the block where he lived in the Crestwood section of Yonkers, one woman described Fahy as “a wonderful young man.”
“He’s an awful loss to this area, and his kids are wonderful” said Ann, 69, who declined to give her last name.
Nigro said firefighters and other emergency personnel had gone to the house in response to an odor of gas about 6:22 a.m.
Firefighters tried to find the source of the odor while other firefighters evacuated nearby buildings, he said.
When the explosion occurred about 7:30 a.m., Fahy and the people who were injured were all standing in the street, he said.