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Cambria Hts. fireman hurt in blaze gets out of hospital

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In contrast to the somber winter scene outside, Weill Cornell Medical Center’s brightly lit dining room was replete with exultation and triumph over adversity. Lt. Stephen Halliday of Queens Ladder Co. 165 in Cambria Heights was back.

As Halliday was wheeled into the room, cheers and applause erupted from more than 100 fellow firefighters, friends and hospital personnel at the Upper East Side Manhattan hospital on the East River.

Only 60 days before, the 42-year-old Halliday had suffered critical burns over more than half his body in a St. Albans fire and doctors thought his chances for recovery were no better than 50 percent. Now he was well enough to leave.

To the delight of all and surprise to some of the assemblage, Halliday rose from his wheelchair and stood at the rostrum to express his thanks. It brought a long ovation.

“It’s going to be hard leaving this place,” said Halliday. “So much love here, so much good.” Both Halliday and his wife hugged burn center nurse Tracy Henson.

Then he turned to his Fire Department comrades.

“It really warms your heart. The support you have shown to my wife and family has gone above and beyond anything I could have imagined,” said Halliday, a veteran of 15 years as a firefighter and who previously served in Manhattan with Engine Co. 1 and Ladder Co. 24.

Halliday’s wife, Linda, said the worst time for her was immediately after her husband was injured and was being rushed to the burn center. “They couldn’t tell me yet whether he was alive or dead,” she said.

Halliday's close call came Nov. 7 in a fire that swept a two-story brick house on 178th Place in St. Albans. Halliday had gone into the house with his crew from Ladder Co. 165 in Cambria Heights but soon told them the heat was getting too severe to stay.

“We started backing out,” Halliday said. He was pulled from under burning debris by fellow firefighters.

Suffering from very critical burns over 55 percent of his body, including his head, face, arms, hands and torso, he underwent six operations, including restoration of his scalp. So severely were his hands burned that parts of several fingers had to be amputated.

Halliday said it was “probably a guessing game” as to when he could return to duty.

But Dr. Palmer Bessey, assistant director of the burn center, predicted it would be two years.

“His kind of injuries are extremely draining to the human body,” Bessey said in describing in detail Halliday’s injuries. He suggested that merely appearing at the news conference was extremely tiring to Halliday.

Although he left the Burn Center, Halliday did not go home to Babylon, L.I. Instead, he was transferred to Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains.

As he left the hospital, Fire Department bagpipers played for Halliday and his wife and daughters, Sarah, 10, and Emily, 11. As they drove away, their white limousine passed two fire trucks with extension ladders from which was suspended an enormous American flag rippling among the snowflakes.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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