Hans Meister was a fire captain in New York City who heeded the call to fight a smoky five-alarm blaze in Long Island City in October 1943.
But he suffered smoke inhalation, became progressively ill after the fire and died within five days.
In the decades since, his family had been trying to designate his passing as a line-of-duty death so that his name is added to the FDNY's Wall of Honor at fire department headquarters at Metro Tech in downtown Brooklyn. But the department has declined the request.
"You get to the point where you feel they just don’t care," said grandson Richard Meister, a native of Deer Park who works as an investment banker in Dallas. "They just don’t care."
He and other Meister grandchildren had petitioned the FDNY as far back as 1997 to classify Hans’s death as in the line of duty. While some in the department were sympathetic with the family, ultimately the FDNY referred the case to its legal division for review. Nothing happened.
Then one day, Richard Meister said he read a story in Newsday about a similar case in which a family finally prevailed after years of fighting.
Enter Edward W. McCarty III, a retired Nassau County judge, who became special counsel to the law firm of Vishnick McGovern Milizio in Lake Success.
The former Nassau County prosecutor, state Supreme Court judge and son of a decorated FDNY chief has taken on a unique crusade: Fighting to get New York City firefighters who died decades ago posthumous recognition that they died in the line of duty.
In 2020, the Meisters hired his law firm to prepare legal papers to try and compel the FDNY to give the deceased firefighter a line-of-duty death determination.
McCarty’s team determined that Hans Meister died of what is now known as "acute respiratory distress syndrome," brought on by the extreme smoke conditions at the fire.
For now, the FDNY seems to be standing firm and in a statement a spokesman said the department saw nothing to overturn a decision made so many years ago.
"If new information is provided, the Department will review the matter," an FDNY spokesman said in the statement.
McCarty said the family of those he is helping don’t want money but the simple recognition that their loved ones died as a result of injuries suffered on the job.
"They are looking for their names to be placed on the honor roll of people who made the supreme sacrifice and were getting indifference or a lack of response from the fire department," McCarty said,
McCarty's quest goes back to 2017, when Arthur O’Brien, an old college classmate, called him and asked for help.
O’Brien’s grandfather, Thomas F. O’Brien, had died in October 1935 after fighting a fire in Queens and the family believed his death was caused by a head injury sustained in the fire.
McCarty put together a team of experts, including medical specialists, and came up with an investigative report that asserted the evidence supported the conclusion that O’Brien died in the line of duty.
In 2018, the FDNY and the O’Brien family settled the case and Thomas O’Brien’s name was added to the memorial wall at department headquarters during a special ceremony.
Cases like that of Meister and O’Brien reverberate for McCarty because of his family’s firefighter legacy growing up in Bellerose, Queens. His father, also named Edward, rose to the rank of battalion chief and was cited for bravery in his career.
McCarty is also investigating a third FDNY-related case but didn’t want to give specific details until his investigation is completed.
For now, McCarty is working furiously to get Hans Meister's name on the memorial wall.
"We are not looking for money," McCarty said. "They [fallen firefighters] are looking for recognition and justice requires their names go on the board."