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Astoria street renamed to honor three firefighters

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Three firefighters who died on Father's Day two years ago while battling a five-alarm fire in a hardware store were honored Sunday when a stretch of Astoria Boulevard between 12th and 14th Streets was named after them.

"It's bittersweet, but it's beautiful," said Mary Fahey, whose husband, Brian Fahey, perished in the fire on June 17, 2001, at age 46. "The firefighters are a family. It's nice to know how loved my husband was."

The two other firefighters who died two years ago were John Downing, who was 40, and Harry Ford, who was 50. At the time of their deaths, Fahey and Ford belonged to Rescue 4 and Downing belonged to Ladder 163.

According to Megan Awerdick, assistant to Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), the Father's Day fire began at around 2:30 p.m. when two teenagers who were painting graffiti on a building knocked over a can of paint into the basement of a hardware store. The mix of the paint with other chemicals, including propane in the basement, caused the blaze to ignite.

With no sprinkler system in the basement of the store, the fire grew to become a five-alarm blaze which firefighters battled all night long and into the next morning. Downing, Ford and Fahey were buried under rubble in the basement of the building after the ground floor collapsed.

"We were having a Father's Day dinner at The Charcoal Grill on 21st Street," recalled Al Santora, a retired fire chief whose son, Christopher, was a firefighter who also had a street renamed after him after he died in the Sept. 11 attacks at age 23.

"We heard the trucks and I said, 'Something must've happened,'" Santora said. "We walked up about 10 blocks and the collapse had already occurred. We prayed they wouldn't die. Little did we know we would have a similar experience a few months later."

Santora's wife, Maureen, said having a street renamed after her son was a wonderful, joyous and unsolicited event, and she was glad that the families of the three firefighters would also have a street to remind them of their loved one.

"Every time I pass by my son's street, I say 'Hi, Chris. I need a parking space here. Help me out.' It just heartens my spirit," said Maureen Santora. "These families have been shrouded by 9/11. I'm so glad they're doing this."

Following speeches made by Vallone and Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), a small crowd watched as coverings were pulled off three signs at the corner of Astoria Boulevard and 14th Street, which read "Firefighter John Downing Way," "Firefighter Brian Fahey Way" and "Firefighter Harry Ford Way."

"Long before Sept. 11, 2002, firefighters were sacrificing their lives for New Yorkers all around this city, and while the numbers may not have been as large, we know that the sacrifices were just as great," said Gianaris. "At a time when our firehouses are being closed, it's particularly appropriate to pause and recognize the value of our fire department."

Fahey is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children; Downing is survived by his wife, Anne, and two children; and Ford is survived by his wife, Denise, and three children.

"It's amazing to see how many fathers are here honoring Father's Day," said Fahey, carrying a bouquet of red roses. "I know my husband's looking down. I get signs from him every day."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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