On Tuesday afternoon, 33-year-old Jesse Gerhard, a NYC firefighter and longtime Islip volunteer, responded to a 2nd Alarm fire at 25-43 Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway, where flames had fully engulfed a three-story building, officials said.
Assigned the “irons” position, Gerhard was tasked with forcing open a door so his fellow firefighters could enter, fight the fire and join him in searching for anyone who might have been trapped, according to reports.
Shortly before 6 p.m., the blaze was brought under control. The firefighters returned to their firehouse.
Some five hours later, at around 11 p.m. Wednesday, his fellow firefighters “heard a noise like a collapse and responded to find him unconscious,” acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.
Gerhard’s colleagues performed CPR and brought him to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital., but he could not be saved, Kavanagh said.
He died around 11 p.m. on Wednesday.
The cause of firefighter Jesse Gerhard’s death has not been determined, but it is considered a line-of-duty death, the officials said.
“The entire city mourns for the loss of this firefighter, a young man that dreamed to be a firefighter all his life,” a somber Mayor Eric Adams said at a City Hall news conference Thursday.
Thursday also marked a particularly somber day at the Islip Fire Department, where Gerhard’s memory and legacy were honored.
Strength in numbers
Gerhard was a 12-year veteran of the Islip Fire Department, where he rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant of Engine Company 1.
Islip Fire Department Chief Alden Schroeder has known Gerhard throughout his career and described him as a friendly man, eager to help anyone both as a firefighter and a skilled wood worker.
Over the years, the chief watched Gerhard grow more confidently as a firefighter and a leader.
“He started here just like all of us did, as kids,” Schroeder said. “He became a Lieutenant, Engine 1, went through the ranks and started mentoring the young guys. We would go to trainings and he would take young guys in and show them how to do things, different tricks you could do, stuff a lot of guys don’t think about.”
Schroeder said Gerhard’s passing is new experience for him and his fellow Islip firefighters. They have been fortunate enough to not suffer an active-duty loss from their ranks, until now.
They are enduring this loss together.
“Honestly, I was upset all day long,” Schroeder said Thursday. “I got the call at midnight last night, I came down here, I was here till about 2 o’clock just talking with everybody.”
“I came here after work, there was about 30 guys hanging in [the break room] and my mood just lifted,” he continued. “Being around our brother firemen, it’s an amazing feeling that I can’t necessarily put words to.”
‘A brave, caring, selfless guy’
In New York City, Mayor Adams ordered all flags lowered to half-staff until the date of Gerhard’s interment.
Gerhard was first appointed to the FDNY as an EMT in 2014 and assigned to Station 10 in Manhattan before serving at Station 47 in Far Rockaway. After graduating the fire academy in April 2018, he was assigned as a firefighter to Engine Co. 264 in Far Rockaway. In March 2020, he transferred to Ladder Co. 134 in the same Far Rockaway firehouse. He was honored for bravery once in his career.
“Firefighter Jesse Gerhard dreamed of being a firefighter his entire life, and he lived that dream, bravely serving the residents of Queens by battling fires and rescuing New Yorkers from harm,” Adams said in a statement Thursday. “The heartbreaking loss of this brave young man who was so committed to saving others is a painful reminder of the dangerous and difficult work New York City firefighters do every single day.”
“As a firefighter and an EMT, Jesse Gerhard served our city with incredible courage and valor, always rushing into danger and risking his life to save others,” Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh added. “Our entire department is in mourning over the tragic death of this extraordinary young man who always answered the call and never wavered in his sworn duty to save others.”
Gerhard is survived by his parents, brother, and sister-in-law.
While funeral arrangements are pending, the Islip Fire Department will remember the fallen hero.
An American Flag flew high in his honor Friday over Sunrise Highway in Islip.
“I don’t want people to mourn his death, I want people to celebrate his life,” Schroeder said. “This is a brave, caring, selfless guy.”
with Associated Press