FDNY Firefighter Jesse Gerhard returned to his firehouse after battling a blaze Tuesday afternoon, as he had done for years. The next night, the 33-year-old from Islip collapsed in the Queens firehouse after suffering a "medical episode" and died.
At a news conference in the City Hall rotunda Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and FDNY leaders announced Gerhard's death.
Gerhard who joined the FDNY nearly four years ago, was working out of Ladder 134 in Far Rockway on Tuesday when he and other firefighters responded at 4:05 a.m. to the fire at 25-43 Beach Channel Dr., the department said Thursday.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday, Gerhard, while on duty at the Far Rockaway firehouse on Central Avenue, suffered the unspecified medical episode, the FDNY said in a news release.
Adams said Thursday that "Gerhard dreamed of being a firefighter his entire life."
"And he lived that dream, bravely serving the residents of Queens by battling fires and rescuing New Yorkers from harm," the mayor said.
"The heartbreaking loss of this brave young man who was so committed to saving others is a painful reminder of the dangerous and difficult work New York City firefighters do every single day," the mayor added.
Gerhard would split his time between Islip, where he grew up, and Long Beach, where he'd sometimes stay with fellow firefighters, according to Islip Fire Capt. Thomas Butler.
His father, Bruce Gerhard, noted that his son followed in the path of his great-grandfather, a fire captain in Queens.
"I'm numb. It's just like out of the blue, how could you think something like this could happen? You know it's always inevitable and never think it could happen to your kid," Gerhard said Thursday. "All he wanted to be was a fireman. His life was a fireman, and all his friends were firemen, and he lived in Long Beach with all the firemen. He was a good kid. A really good kid."
Jesse Gerhard was first appointed as a probationary firefighter in December 2017, and he had previously worked as an emergency medical technician, beginning in July 2014. As an EMT, he'd been assigned to Station 10 in Manhattan and Station 47 in Far Rockaway, before entering the fire academy in 2017.
He graduated in April 2018 and was first assigned to Engine Co. 264 in Far Rockaway before transferring, in March 2020, to Ladder 134. In a news release, The FDNY said he'd been honored once for bravery.
What to know
- FDNY firefighter Jesse Gerhard, 33, collapsed and died Wednesday after fighting a house fire Tuesday afternoon in Far Rockaway.
- The FDNY said he died in the line of duty.
- Gerhard split his time between Islip, his hometown, and Long Beach, where he sometimes stayed with fellow firefighters.
Acting FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said: "As a firefighter and an EMT, Jesse Gerhard served our city with incredible courage and valor, always rushing into danger and risking his life to save others. Our entire department is in mourning over the tragic death of this extraordinary young man who always answered the call and never wavered in his sworn duty to save others."
After responding to the house fire Tuesday, Gerhard immediately helped begin a search "for any trapped occupants" in the three-story structure, which was "fully engulfed in flames" — including the basement, the FDNY said.
Gerhard was assigned to the "irons" position, meaning he was tasked with forcing open doors to gain entrance to the structure as well as any interior search areas.
The fire was brought under control at 5:49 p.m., the news release said, and resulted in four minor injuries to civilians.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation by fire marshals.
After Gerhard suffered the medical episode, fellow firefighters "immediately provided emergency medical care," a statement from the mayor's office said.
The FDNY said Gerhard was rushed to St. John's Episcopal Hospital, where he died.
Gerhard is the 1,156th FDNY member to die in the line of duty, the department said.
The last FDNY member to die in the line of duty was Lt. Joseph Maiello, who died on Dec. 26.
Funeral arrangements for Gerhard are pending, according to the FDNY.
'Living the prime of his life'
In Islip, purple and black bunting adorned the firehouse Thursday. Inside, a bouquet of flowers and a condolence card sat next to Gerhard's fire helmet and jacket, which were in the same spot as when he last used the equipment.
"Guys like Jesse, we need in the fire service," said Butler, adding that Gerhard had been a volunteer with the Islip Fire Department since 2009, when he was 20.
"All of the young guys are sons to me, and he’s a guy you don’t want to lose," Butler said. "The priceless guys, you can’t lose those guys. We just lost one of those in Islip and New York City."
Butler said Gerhard lived in Islip but stayed with other firefighters in Long Beach on days he was to work in Far Rockaway for the FDNY.
Islip firefighters are struggling to understand how a seemingly healthy 33-year-old died on duty, he said.
"Today our brothers come together and everyone tries to ease the pain," Butler said, adding: "He was well wanted and who you always wanted to be around. He was the go-to guy and was a very good firefighter. He was very generous with a big heart and was living the prime of his life. Right now, this is very difficult."
On Thursday afternoon, Islip firefighters drove to the Gerhard family home, a two-story Victorian, and hung purple and black bunting over the front door. For the trip, the firefighters took the truck Gerhard himself, a first lieutenant, used to drive for calls.
Assistant Chief Jared Gunst, who joined the Islip department at the same time as Gerhard, described him as "a big jokester" who enlivened the firehouse.
Gerhard would also help with cooking meals and doing carpentry, including building a bar at the firehouse, Gunst said.
Gunst, 31, said he most recently saw Gerhard at the firehouse last week when he stopped to visit with friends.
"Fighting fires was his life. His dream job was to be a city firefighter and was a huge part of who he was. His dream came true when he got that job in the city," Gunst said.
Gunst was shaken as he described getting the bad news via a phone call just before midnight.
"I was in shock the entire night. No one prepared us to lose someone so young the way we did," Gunst said. "There are a million risks you take on any calls. You realize how taxing it can be on you as a person, emotionally and physically. It's very rough."