Up from the Ashes: Fire Chief John Fahy’s Transformational Journey

The inspiring story of one man's loss and how he channeled that into a career saving lives.

Tragedy can strike at any moment, and often does so without warning. A catastrophic event can shake us, rock the foundation of our lives, and either cripple us or push us forward to rebuild and restore from the broken fragments. Such a tragedy befell 31-year-old John Fahy, Chief of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department in Breezy Point, Queens, but he emerged from it determined to fight to prevent such traumas for others. To acknowledge and celebrate Fire Prevention Month, GOOD is partnering with Nest to share the personal stories of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department. Here, we take a look at the life of John Fahy; his firehouse, what motivated him to become a volunteer firefighter, and the daily struggles and triumphs of his profession.

The Fahy family has a legacy of firefighters and police officers, and John Fahy had long entertained the idea of pursuing the same path. “My Grandfather Joe and Uncle Joe were both volunteer firefighters in Rockland County,” says Fahy. “I always was very proud of that.” His mind was ultimately made up in the wake of two separate tragedies that would forever change his life.

In the early morning hours of April 25, 1996, two months after Fahy’s aunt, New York City Police Department Captain Margaret Fahy, passed away from liver cancer, his uncle, NYPD Deputy Inspector John W. Fahy and his six-year-old son, were tragically killed in a fire that consumed their Breezy Point home. Fahy’s two cousins, John and Megan, then only 12 and five, respectively, were rescued by two off-duty firefighters who lived across the street. Following this devastating loss to his immediate family, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 cemented Fahy’s decision to become a firefighter. “September 11, 2001 was my 18th birthday,” says Fahy. “After I saw the sense of courage and duty those firefighters had, I knew I had a calling to do the same.” Fahy felt compelled to become involved with the volunteer fire department in Breezy Point. By January 2002, he was officially made a volunteer firefighter, saying, “I wanted to be part of the team that charges into a burning building when everyone else is running out.”

Fahy has in fact had to wrestle additional adversity since assuming his volunteer post. Breezy Point was one of the areas hit the hardest by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, with Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department suffering significant damages. Braving chest deep seawater, Fahy and his fellow volunteer firefighters evacuated their house and took to higher ground for safety. Amidst torrential rains, 60 to 80 mph winds, and the darkness that fell on the blacked-out city, the men of Point Breeze battled the largest residential fire in New York City since 1865 —it destroyed 126 homes and caused massive damage to another 22 residential structures. The aftermath of Sandy not only ravaged the Breezy Point community, but also destroyed most, if not all, of the fire department’s equipment, making efficient post-storm rescue and cleanup near impossible. “Since the storm, we have pushed ourselves to be the best we possibly can be,” says Fahy. “In the days and months after the storm we rebuilt, and now, two years later, we make sure we are prepared to handle whatever is thrown our way.”

Coming up on his 13th year at Point Breeze and second as chief, Fahy has dedicated his life to being on the frontlines of firefighting, but also fire education. “Fire safety and prevention is the grassroots of my term as chief,” says Fahy. “It is our sole purpose to protect our community and that is why we should give the people in it every chance to live more safely.” This includes educating residents of Breezy Point, as well as the greater NYC population, on smoke and carbon monoxide detector maintenance, and the importance of having an evacuation plan established in every household. In Fahy's mind, education is the single most important facet of fire prevention, as it’s the first step to ensuring the safety of their constituents. With more than 3,400 Americans dying and approximately 17,500 injured due to fires annually, fire safety and awareness are crucial. Fahy and his team of volunteer firefighters regularly hand out fliers, hold informational meetings, and reach out to the community to increase their preparedness for a myriad of situations, including house fires, carbon monoxide, and natural disaster.

Fahy at lunch with his team

It hasn’t been an easy road, Fahy admits, but being a firefighter has become the foundation of his adult life. The Point Breeze Fire Department is a brotherhood, a tightknit group of dedicated citizens who willingly serve and protect others, without expecting anything in return. “It’s a very close fire department and we pride ourselves on doing it for free,” says Fahy. “While holding a full time job [outside Point Breeze], I push to dedicate at least eight hours of my day to my firehouse. When I am not there physically, all I’m thinking of is the firehouse and ways to better us.”

Being a public servant is a constant sacrifice, not only is it a sacrifice of time away from family and friends, but these volunteers are also risking their lives on a daily basis to protect people whom they have never met. Chief John Fahy and the Point Breeze team gladly face these challenges and risks head on, and are a testament to the human spirit and will to do good.

WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less

Facebook: kktv11news

A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Coal mining is on the decline, leaving many coal miners in West Virginia without jobs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says there are about 55,000 positions, and just 13,000 of those jobs are in West Virginia. The dwindling amount of work is leaving some struggling to make a living, but the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is giving those coal miners a way to find new jobs and make a supplemental income as coal mining diminishes.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trains coal miners and other low-income residents in mining communities to keep bees. Some coal miners are getting retrained to work in the tech industry, however beekeeping allows coal miners to continue to work in a job that requires a similar skill set. "The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," former coal miner James Scyphers told NPR. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

There was once a time in Florida where you could park your boat in your front lawn, but you were SOL if you wanted to grow squash and lettuce there. However, thanks to one Miami Shores couple, that's about to change.

Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll had been growing a front yard garden for 17 years, but in 2013, Miami Shores changed its city ordinance, making the activity illegal. The new city ordinance said that backyard vegetable gardens were a-OK, but Ricketts and Carroll couldn't keep a garden in their backyard because it didn't get enough sun. So the couple could either dig up their garden or face $50 in daily fines for letting it continue to grow. The couple opted to do neither and instead, they sued the city.

Ricketts and Carroll took their case to the Florida Supreme Court. Initially, the courts sided with Miami Shores, but the fight wasn't over. Florida State Senator Rob Bradley introduced legislation preventing "a county or municipality from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties." Earlier this year, the Senate passed the bill 35-5.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet