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2 Father’s Day fire widows sue Astoria hardware store

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Two widows who lost their husbands in the fatal Father’s Day fire that destroyed an Astoria hardware store last year have filed a $30 million lawsuit against the owners for negligence, their attorney said this week.

Mary Fahey, wife of firefighter Brian Fahey, and Denise Ford, the wife of Firefighter Harry Ford, are each seeking $10 million for wrongful death and $5 million for their pain and suffering, said Michael Block, a Manhattan attorney who is representing them in the lawsuit filed Aug. 6 in Queens Supreme Court.

Four firefighters injured in the explosion and their wives are also plaintiffs to the suit, seeking $5 million for each fireman and $500,000 for the spouses.

“Any family would like whatever degree of closure is available to them, although one never gets over this kind of terrible tragedy,” Block said. “But they also felt that based upon what we learned in looking into this terrible event, that things that were done there were grossly improper.”

The suit names Long Island General Supply as well as its trustees, Alec Gordon and his wife Pearl Gordon, as defendants. Alec Gordon died shortly before the fire broke out, and the store is now operated by his sons, Robin and Randy Gordon.

Gerard Misk, the attorney representing the Gordon family, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it.

Three firefighters died when the June 17, 2001 fire at the Long Island General Supply store on Astoria Boulevard sparked an explosion that brought the building crashing down on them. Anne Downing, the wife of firefighter John Downing — the third fireman who died in the explosion — was expected to file a lawsuit of her own, Block said.

Ford and Fahey were members of Rescue Co. 4 in Woodside, while Downing belonged to Ladder Co. 163 in Woodside.

An investigation later revealed the fire was accidentally started by a teenage boy who was playing with a friend in an adjacent yard and accidentally tripped over a can of gasoline, which trickled down the cellar steps and was likely ignited by a pilot light.

Although the building was razed after it was gutted by fire, the store still operates out of a nearby warehouse.

At the time of the fire, the hardware store’s basement had been heavily stocked with flammable materials such as chemical containers, aerosol cans, paint cans and propane canisters in quantities the lawsuit claims were illegal.

“We allege that they illegally stored high-pressure canisters in numbers that were far beyond what was appropriate,” Block said.

The lawsuit also alleges that a fire door that should have automatically closed to prevent the fire from spreading from one part of the basement to the other had been disabled, rendering it useless.

The lawsuit does not address the absence of fire sprinklers in the basement, which fire officials speculated at the time could have prevented the fatal explosion. The building predates the regulations requiring the sprinklers and was thereby permitted to operate without them.

“Good practice may have required it, sensible practice may have required it, but if the law did not mandate it, so be it,” Block said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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