Fire marshals determined that incense left unattended was the cause of the Queens blaze where firefighter William Tolley died on April 20, the FDNY said.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on April 21 that the people who live in the second-floor apartment at 1615 Putnam Ave. in Ridgewood left the incense burning in the bedroom and were not at home when the fire started around 2:20 p.m. The incense was left burning in observance of a religious practice, Nigro said.
Tolley, 42, fell five stories from the roof of the building while battling the fire, officials said. He was pronounced dead at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
He was a 14-year veteran of the FDNY and leaves behind a wife, Marie, and 8-year-old daughter, Isabella.
"Compounding the tragic loss of firefighter Tolley’s life is that the fire he responded to and fought bravely could have been prevented," Nigro said in a statement posted to the department's Facebook page.
Tolley worked on the roof as the outside ventilation firefighter, Nigro said, an assignment that entails freeing hot gas and smoke churned up by a fire below so people above the flames can escape.
Officials said Tolley's death had nothing to do with the relatively minor blaze he and about 100 other firefighters had come to help extinguish.
A separate investigation by the FDNY’s Safety Command, however, will look into whether there was any mechanical failure with the ladder that was stretching up to the roof during the fire.
The command will examine the mechanics, the apparatus and training, and issue a report at some point, FDNY spokesman Jim Long said.
Investigators are specifically focusing on whether Tolley was getting into the bucket at the top of the ladder truck when he fell, an official told Newsday.
As the investigation into the cause of Tolley's fall continues, the fire department released details on his funeral and wake services.
A wake will be held at Chapey and Sons Funeral Home in Bethpage on Tuesday, April 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. and again on Wednesday, April 26, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., the FDNY said.
Tolley's funeral Mass will be celebrated April 27 at St. Martin of Tours in Bethpage at 11 a.m.
Until the firefighter’s wake and funeral are complete, Long said, the duties of about 60 firefighters and supervisors assigned to Tolley’s company will be covered by surrounding firehouses in the battalion. During that time, the firefighters will support Tolley’s family and prepare for his funeral.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced April 24 that it would pay off the mortgage of the Tolley family's home.
The New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund, also known as Answer the Call, announced April 21 it was donating $25,000 to Tolley's family. His widow will also receive an annual stipend for the rest of her life, the organization said.
“Men and women of our police and fire departments, like William Tolley, put their lives on the line each day to keep us safe and it is our responsibility to help ensure their families have the support they need when tragedy occurs,” said Answer the Call board chairman Stephen Dannhauser. “As New Yorkers ourselves, we vow to honor Tolley and support his family from this day forward.”
The FDNY Foundation has also begun accepting donations for the newly created Firefighter William Tolley’s Children’s Educational Fund.
On Thursday night, April 20, members of the FDNY saluted Tolley as his coffin, covered by an American flag, was carried out of the hospital.
Back at Tolley's fire company, Ladder 135, in Ridgewood, a memorial was growing as people placed flowers and candles outside the firehouse. Tolley, of Bethpage, Long Island, was honored there at a bunting ceremony.
Kate Sullivan, 37, who owns the bar next to the firehouse, K&A Bar, where Tolley and others from the company dropped by, were shocked by news of his death.
"You don't want to believe it," she said. "He has a little girl he loves to pieces.”
She recalled that Tolley and the other firefighters were often ready to lend her a hand.
“Those guys were shoveling my snow for me,” she said. “They gave me Easter dinner on Sunday.”
Josh Darsky, 45, who works at K&A Bar, described Tolley as “a super nice guy.”
"He had a good sense of humor. He seemed like a fun-loving guy," he said.
Joseph Kunkel, a chaplain with the New York State Chaplain Task Force, was at Tolley’s fire company Thursday night waiting for his fellow firefighters to come back from the hospital.
"We're here for when they start coming back,” he said. “Some may want to say a prayer. Some may want to talk.”
"It affects them forever,” he added. "The main thing is that this is a time you have to hold on to your faith."
Tolley began his career at Ladder 135 in 2003 before he was reassigned to Ladder 155 in 2010, according to the FDNY Foundation. He returned to Ladder 135 in 2011, where he served until his death.