Over 100 friends and family members paid tribute to those men with the unveiling of a plaque and dedication ceremony at the current location of VIP Auto Body Shop.
“We thought we had it under control,” said John Killcommons, a now-retired FDNY member who was there the night of fire. Killcommons, 78, said he was lucky to make it out that night, stressing that as crews continued to take water to the fire, it just grew brighter and stronger. “That's when the wall came down.”
A difficult time for all hit by the tragedy, Killcommons said that two of the firefighters who passed in the fire had joined the department with him two years earlier.
“It was a sad day, but here we are fifty years later,” he said.
Killcommons said that the event would not have been possible without the help of Peter Keanne, the auto shop's owner, who learned of the fire while doing renovations on the building several years ago.
On October 26, 1962, a fire broke out at the former site of the Sefu Soap and Fat Company on 56th Road – now VIP Auto Body - killing Captain William Russell, Firefighter Richard Andrews and Firefighter James Marino from Engine 325; Firefighter Richard Gifford and Firefighter George Zahn from Engine 238; and Firefighter Francis Egan from Ladder 115.
Lorraine Zahn, 50, whose father George died in the fire when she was two months old, said she felt overwhelmed by the ceremony. “I think it's a wonderful thing,” Zahn said. “And I feel like it's been a long time coming.”
As the audience prepared for the plaque unveiling, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano reminded attendants how dangerous a firefighter's job is. “This fire is a very sobering reminder of that,” he said.
However, he also pointed out that the plaque's dedication would educate others who did not know the firefighters who lost their lives at the site 50 years ago.
“We place the plaque on the wall so that members of the community will see and always remember those who came 50 years ago and today,” he said.