FDNY members are mourning the death of a firefighter who fell more than 50 feet from a bridge in Brooklyn Sunday night, according to officials.
More than 100 firefighters in uniform flanked the entrance to Ladder Company 170 in Canarsie Monday evening as they held a bunting ceremony to honor firefighter Steven Pollard.
A U.S. flag hung above a handful of colorful flower bouquets in front of the station as firefighters used a ladder truck to hang the black and purple bunting across the garage doors. "Amazing Grace" was played on bagpipes as firefighters saluted.
After the ceremony, Captain James Quinn said it was a painful day for the Pollard family, the Canarsie community and the FDNY.
"He was a good firefighter. He was on his way to being a great firefighter," Quinn said of Pollard. "Any job we gave him, he accomplished it. Any task we asked him to do, he did it well."
Pollard, 30, was responding to a two-car crash on the Belt Parkway’s Mill Basin bridge at about 10 p.m. Sunday when he fell to his death, officials said. He and other members were on the eastbound side of the roadway and needed to cross over to the other side to reach the victims, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
As Pollard was crossing, he slipped through a 2.5- to 3-foot gap between the two sides and fell about 52 feet, Nigro said.
He was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital Center. The medical examiner said Pollard died of multiple blunt impact injuries and ruled his death an accident.
Pollard, who had been on the job for a year and a half and recently cleared his probationary period, comes from a family of FDNY firefighters, Nigro said. His father is a retired firefighter from Ladder Company 102 in Bedford-Stuyvesant and his brother is an active member at Ladder Company 114 in Sunset Park.
“It’s a terrible loss for the department, to lose a member just at the beginning of his career like this is devastating to us,” Nigro said during a news conference at the hospital.
Pollard was on track to receive a red and white patch with the numbers 170 on it, which would have been placed on his helmet, according to Quinn.
"He earned this patch. He passed his probation with flying colors," Quinn said after the bunting ceremony. "This patch will be on his helmet that we will present to the family at the funeral."
Quinn remembered Pollard with a smile as he described the firefighter as a man of few words who got things done. He was going to be a "great fireman, just like his father and his brother," he added.
Earlier Monday, firefighters gathered to salute Pollard in a ceremony called "dignified transfer" as his body was transported from the medical examiner’s office to a funeral home in Brooklyn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who joined the commissioner at the hospital, ordered all flags in the city to be lowered to half-staff.
“[Pollard] devoted his life to the people of our city, like his brother, like his dad, he was trying to do such a good and important thing, and it’s just really painful to see him as we did in the hospital,” de Blasio said.
Pollard lived with his parents in Marine Park, according to a next-door neighbor.
“They’re the best,” said Jackie Afflitto, 33. “Amazing, you can’t ask for better, really.”
Afflitto, a nurse, said the tight-knit block was devastated by Pollard’s death.
“It’s a hard hit for us,” she said.
Pollard is the 1,151st member of the FDNY to die in the line of duty, Nigro said. Funeral arraignments had not been announced as of Monday evening.
Meanwhile, FDNY and state officials said they were investigating the accident.
“We have been notified and will be investigating,” said Jill Aurora, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Labor. Since Pollard was a local government employee when he died, the state agency has jurisdiction over the case instead of the federal Occupational Safety And Health, officials said.
The gap through which Pollard fell was part of the original design plans for the $263 million bridge, which replaced a structure dating to 1941. The new bridge is actually two separate bridges handling traffic in different directions.
Concrete barriers, some 42 inches high, enclose the gap and the bridge lighting was fully operational at the time of the accident, said a city Department of Transportation spokesman.
The new bridge spanning Mill Basin inlet was opened for traffic in late 2017 and its basic structure is complete. It is expected to be fully finished later this year, the DOT spokesman said.
Richard Cochrane, an official with the American Society of Highway Engineers, said that gaps between east and westbound roadways on bridges were common and used to avoid problems from expansion and contraction of spans from temperature changes.
Cochrane noted that about 20 years ago, someone fell after misjudging an 8-foot gap in an expressway between highways near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. After that accident, officials put a horizontal chain link fencing over the gap, he said.
With Alison Fox, Anthony M. DeStefano and Nicole Fuller