Families Gather To Remember Six Firefighters Killed In 1978 Waldaum’s Fire In Sheepshead Bay

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Commisioner Nigro with NYPD Detective William O'Connor, Jr., the son of one of the fallen firefighters.  (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Commisioner Nigro with NYPD Detective William O’Connor, Jr., the son of one of the fallen firefighters. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Friends, family and FDNY colleagues gathered at Saint Brendan’s Church in Midwood on Saturday, marking the 36th anniversary of an historic blaze at the Sheepshead Bay Waldbaum’s that claimed six lives.

The August 2, 1978 fire broke out at Waldbaum’s, then located at Ocean Avenue and Avenue Y (now the site of Staples). As the blaze ripped through the building, area firefighters wrestled to bring it under control. At approximately 9:02 a.m., the roof gave in, plunging at least a dozen of New York’s Bravest into the inferno.

Attendees gather in front of the church after the service. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Attendees gather in front of the church after the service. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

In all, six firefighters died and another 34 were injured in what became the largest loss of firefighters in a single fire in Brooklyn history.

In 1999, the city renamed the corner “Firemen’s Corner.” A street sign and plaque continue to honor the fallen.

FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes & Drums performed at the service  .(Photo by Mike T. Wright)

FDNY’s Emerald Society Pipes & Drums performed at the service .(Photo by Mike T. Wright)

The heroic firefighters who died in the blaze on August 2, 1978, are FF George Rice, 38, Ladder 153; FF James McManus, 48; Cov. Lt. James Cutillo, 39, 33rd Battalion; FF Harold Hastings, 39, 42nd Battalion; FF Charles Bouton, 38, Ladder 156; and William O’Connor, 29 of Ladder 156.

The service in Midwood this weekend was attended by newly appointed FDNY Comissioner Daniel Nigro, who said that the event spurred additional training regimes to protect future fire-eaters, and that the department will continue to come together every August 2 to recognize the victims of the Waldbaum’s blaze.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.  (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

For the 2010 anniversary, John Dwyer of JGDwyerPhotography put together the below slideshow. Dwyer has been photographing the FDNY in action since the 1970s.

  • bagels

    Slideshow gives me chills every time I see it……

  • Georgia

    Thank you for sharing this sad video. I remember this like it was yesturday very sad. My these fire fighters rest in peace.

  • Matthew Schless

    Who here remembers how the Fire Department tried to blame the fire on a homeless man because a case of arson would have allowed the next-of-kin of the deceased to get greater annuities?

  • BIG Steve

    Hey Ned, the founders of Bay Improvement Group, spent 18 years to finally get the first public plaque(meaning not on a government building) on the Waldbaum’s Fire site to honor these fallen firefighters. Next, the street renaming was also accomplished by BIG, and we organized and participated in the annual services until the 30th anniversary when a few family members quietly communicated to us, enough. So we have stepped back.
    Staples the current tenant has been a good partner in helping us at Bay Improvement Group, maintain the site, the flag posted and working together on the plaque occasional clean up. At the time, this fire was the second largest loss of fire fighter life in the city and the first in Brooklyn. They gave the ultimate sacrifice and many of us remember that sad day and were there across the street.
    We all share in our honor for the FDNY and those that made the ultimate sacrifice.
    We will always remember. Thanks for your posting the anniversary. http://www.BayImprovementGroup.org

  • Mykl – SBHS 64

    Wow.. this is so sad. and having left NY in Sept 76 for Minnesota (and then Calif) long before the reach of the Internet, I was never aware of this tragedy. And it hits home because that was my Waldbaum for many years – from making ring ding runs when stoned with my roommate to then more sedate trunk-filling Saturday sessions with my late wife, when fortunate enough to find parking. Plus I had 2 high school friends growing up in the ivy-covered apartment building adjacent to the parking lot. SO as surreal as it maynsound 36 years later, belated RIPs to those brave FDNY heroes; hopefully over the years their families found some comfort and then happiness in the ensuing years.