Hero funerals for 2 Buffalo firefighters

By Carolyn Thompson
The Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — More than 5,000 firefighters lined several city blocks in Buffalo and saluted with white-gloved hands as the flag-draped casket of a fellow firefighter arrived at a downtown cathedral. The sad scene played out twice Friday on a day of mourning.

First, family, friends and colleagues followed the casket of Lt. Charles "Chip" McCarthy for his funeral, and later, firefighter Jonathan Croom's body arrived at the same church for a second service.

The Buffalo Fire Department veterans died together Monday after falling through the floor and into the basement of a burning convenience store while searching for a victim who was reported trapped. It was the first time in more than 25 years that two city firefighters died at the same fire.

"There is nothing more admirable than the type of bravery these two firefighters demonstrated earlier this week. I'm here today to express the heartbreak of the city," Mayor Byron Brown said at Croom's service at St. Joseph Cathedral.

The firefighters were trapped in the basement of the Super Speedy Deli for several hours as firefighters trying to reach them were beaten back by flames and the building's collapsing floors.

"We know you guys tried," McCarthy's 23-year-old son, Chas, told his father's colleagues from Rescue 1 during McCarthy's funeral. "He knows you were battling.

"I want to say think you to you guys because he didn't have the time," the son, one of three grown children of the 45-year-old lieutenant, said.

Croom's mother, Angie Heusinger, talked about her 34-year-old son's final moments, too, and said she will think about them every day. Croom had been in the department 10 years.

"I'll think about his last moments and where he was," Heusinger said, crying. "I'll think about that fire. I'll think about that basement and I'll pray and I'll wish that he wasn't awake."

She implored the cathedral full of firefighters to be careful.

"Make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

Earlier in her remembrance, Heusinger laughed while remembering how her son switched from being a dance major to art major at Buffalo's performing arts high school so he wouldn't have to wear tights, and his glee at his brother's decision to become a vegetarian because it meant more meat for him.

Croom's face was plastered on billboards around Buffalo as part of a civil service recruiting campaign two years ago. Fire Commissioner Michael Lombardo said his integrity and character landed him on the recruiting team, but his "brilliant smile" got him on the billboards.

Croom's fiancee, Ingrid Perugachi, is expecting their second child, a son, in a few weeks.

"He was extremely looking forward to the new one, the little one about to be born that he will never see," his mother said.

McCarthy, who was in the department 22 years, was remembered by friends for his love of man and dogs — he had seven — and for his talent as a housepainter.

"His great Irish smile, that's how I'm going to remember him," said his friend, Lt. John Keohane, black tape striping the badge of his dress uniform cap.

Before the start of the each service, thousands of firefighters from around the country and Canada stood outside in quiet reverence awaiting the arrival of their bodies in flag-draped caskets atop fire trucks.

An American flag was suspended from an arch formed by two fire department ladder trucks.

Each family was presented with a flag that had flown over the nation's Capitol on Monday, as well as a medal from the International Association of Fire Fighters, which will add the names of McCarthy and Croom to its fallen firefighters monument in Colorado.

The cause of Monday's three-alarm fire is still unknown.


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