April 30th will mark the 60th anniversary of the tragic accident that claimed the lives of three volunteer firefighters and a crossing guard when two Lynbrook fire trucks collided while responding to a reported house fire.
On that fateful day in 1963, just after noon, and right after a rainstorm, the Lynbrook firefighters responded to the reported fire. Engine Company No. 1 responded with six volunteers. Tally-Ho Engine Company No. 3 also responded with six volunteers.
At the same time, Rosalie Roy, a village school crossing guard, was crossing children at the busy intersection of Hempstead and Peninsula. Both companies were responding to Earle Avenue, just two blocks beyond the intersection.
Both fire engines, with lights blazing and sirens and horns blowing loudly, were driving towards that intersection from different directions. As they approached, Roy was walking 9-year old Joe Calderone, an Our Lady of Peace student, on his way home for lunch, across the busy intersection.
Calderone told me years later that he heard the fire trucks coming while Roy held his hand. He said she pushed him toward the curb before turning around and running back into the intersection. He saw her in the intersection holding up her arms in both directions. It was reported in the newspapers that both drivers may have believed the crossing guard was in the intersection to stop vehicular traffic for the benefit of their fire truck.
Moments later the two fire trucks entered the intersection. The drivers could not stop on the rain-slicked roadway and they collided with the deafening sound of twisted metal that was louder than the blaring sirens and horns. Tally-Ho smashed into the rear portion of Engine Company and spun it around in the intersection striking the crossing guard before she had time to run back to the curb. She was hurled to the lawn in front of the apartment building on the northeast corner. She died instantly.
Engine Company then cut in half the power pole at the corner before finally stopping. The power transformer on the top of the pole exploded when the truck hit it, knocking out electric to the area.
The street was littered with firefighters who had been thrown from their trucks. Nine firefighters were injured. The most seriously were William Koch, 57, Joseph Fischer, 36, and Peter Moody, 20, who were all riding on the back step of Engine Company. All the injured were taken to Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre. Koch died upon arrival and Moody and Fischer remained in critical condition. Other firefighters injured were treated at the accident scene.
On May 2, 1963, Moody died from his injuries. Fischer died the following day. Three volunteers and a school crossing guard were killed in the line of duty in one of the Village of Lynbrook’s worst tragedies since its incorporation in 1911.
In newspaper articles after the accident, the crash was attributed to “the treacherous surface of Peninsula Blvd.” It was also reported that the “road surface was slippery with oil and water.” Accounts further said that Engine Company was late getting out of the firehouse due to engine trouble. The papers said, “Otherwise, both trucks would never have been in that intersection.” Another newspaper reported that Engine Company had also been stopped at the village's main Five Corners intersection just blocks away by a bus that had blocked that intersection.
Ex-Chief Karl Thuge, of Engine Company, and the First Assistant Chief on the scene that day, recently confirmed that a bus had blocked the intersection blocks away otherwise Engine Company would have normally been well passed the intersection where the crash occurred. Neither of the fire engines was reported to have been speeding and the fire call that the trucks were responding to was a malfunctioning steam valve on a furnace.
Koch, an employee of Ruppert’s Brewery in Brooklyn, was the secretary of Engine Company, and a member of the VFW after serving with the Navy Seabees in the Pacific during World War II. Koch left behind a wife and a daughter. Moody was not married and had only been a volunteer for two years. He was survived by his mother, father, brothers and a sister. Fischer, an oil burner mechanic, was also a veteran who served in World War II as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He left behind his widow. All three lived on the same block, Marion Street.
Roy, 37, was married and mother of three and had worked as a crossing guard for the village for three years.
The names of the three firefighters are memorialized at the Firefighter’s Memorial at the corner of Sunrise Highway and Earle Avenue. Each year in October, Lynbrook firefighters remember them and three others who died in the line of duty for this community. Roy is remembered by a stone marker on the lawn of the apartment building where she died.
On April 30, the members of Engine Company will hold a memorial service on the 60th Anniversary of this tragic event at the Firefighters Memorial beginning at 9 a.m. After that service the firefighters will go to the intersection of Peninsula Boulevard and Hempstead Avenue to remember Roy at her stone marker on the apartment building lawn.