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Springfield Gardens street named for local firefighter

Now that nearly a year has passed since the Sept. 11 attacks, the family and friends of firefighter William Henry, who died in a rescue attempt on that day, were able to remember him with more joy than grief Saturday.

More than a hundred people who knew Henry gathered for a ceremony that renamed the street where he lived in Springfield Gardens Firefighter William Henry Avenue, as they laughed and cried while trading recollections of his life.

“He was just a simple, good-hearted man. We all miss Billy greatly,” said Lt. Dave Marmann, who worked with Henry at Rescue Co. 1 in midtown Manhattan. “As you can tell by all the people that are here, Billy was the kind of guy the first time you met him, you knew you had a longtime friend.”

Though the City Council is not expected to approve the name change until next month, southeast Queens politicians, including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), and City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), decided to put up a new sign early. Seventy other streets through the city are also expected be renamed after heroes who died on Sept. 11.

Henry, a firefighter of 20 years, was preparing to go home after finishing his shift on the morning of Sept. 11 when he heard about the World Trade Center attacks, firefighters said. He immediately jumped on a fire truck and rushed to the site, where he died. Henry was 49.

Taking a break from the block party centered around Henry’s home, the group of family members, politicians, friends and Henry’s fellow firefighters huddled around the street sign at the corner of 133rd Avenue and Farmers Boulevard as a light rain fell.

“We look at this rain as a sign from the heavens that William is in a better place than we are,” said Meeks (D-St. Albans), who led the group in a prayer after the sign was unveiled.

Henry’s mother, Ethel, and sister, Ellen, hugged firefighters, thanking them for their friendship and support after Henry was killed.

“They are just like family. They are family,” said Ellen Henry, referring to members of the Rescue Co. 1. Henry “was the greatest guy on Earth. He lived up to his nickname, Buddy, and that’s speaking for everybody.”

Others remembered Henry as gleeful man who got along with everyone. According to several friends, Henry constantly used the phrase “It’s a beautiful thing” and was always optimistic.

Joan Ziddow, a close friend of Henry’s for 20 years, traveled from her home in Los Angeles to pay tribute to him.

“He was the greatest loss I’ve ever suffered. He was a hero long before 9/11,” said Ziddow, who met Henry when she lived in Queens. “He didn’t lose his life. He gave his life.”

Meanwhile, the New York State Paddle Tennis Association was holding its first William Henry Memorial Double Paddle Tennis Tournament in honor of the firefighter who loved to play that sport. The tournament ran all weekend in Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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