50 years later, memorial honors six who perished

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A plaque was dedicated to six firefighters who lost their life in a Maspeth blaze 50 years ago.THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison
A plaque was dedicated to six firefighters who lost their life in a Maspeth blaze 50 years ago.

The Maspeth fire that took the life of six firefighters 50 years ago was long-forgotten by most not involved in the deadly blaze, buried in the ashes of a razed soap factory. For others who battled the blaze that day or lost a family member, the wounds remain fresh, even after five decades.

“I’ve been passing by this [spot] and I always had a tear in my eye that nothing was ever done; that no plaque was ever put up,” said John Killcommons, 78, who was among the men who responded to the fire at the Sefu Soap and Fat Company on October 26, 1962.

The six who died that day — Captain William Russell and firefighters Richard Andrews, James Marino, Richard Gifford, George Zahn and Francis Egan — were honored for their sacrifice at a plaque unveiling 50 years to the day after losing their lives.

“There isn’t a fire engine that goes by here that doesn’t blow its horn,” said Marc Eberle, an employee at VIP Auto Body, which now stands on the site of the fire.

Eberle and the shop’s owner, Peter Keane, discovered charred wood remnants of the ruins during renovations a couple of years ago. Eberle hunkered down at a library combing through microfilm, researching the reason behind the burnt beams.

When Eberle informed Keane of the six lives lost, he was determined to honor the men.

“These six firemen, their kids grew up with no father,” said Keane. “We had to do something.”

Hundreds of firefighters attended the ceremony on 56th Road with Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano unveiling the plaque.

“Few if any firefighters that are here today knew any of these six men; most of you were born after they passed. But they live on in the overwhelming support that you show,” Cassano said.

It may have taken half a century, but Killcommons is relieved that the men lost are finally getting the recognition he believes they deserve.

“It goes to show, it’s never too late,” said Killcommons. “It’s never too late to do something that should have been done a long time ago.”