BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Ten years Saturday two of Buffalo's bravest lost their lives 'in the line of duty'. Buffalo Firefighters Lt. Charles 'Chip' McCarthy and firefighter Jonathan Croom died while battling a fire inside a deli on Genesee Street.
7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley recently met with the mother of Croom who says the pain never goes away.
“An alarm of fire...number 1815 Genesee - between Burgard and Bailey,” sounded radio call from Buffalo Fire.
That call would be the last Lt. Chip McCarthy and firefighter Jonathan Croom would respond to. It was August 24, 2009.
McCarthy went back into the “Super Speedy Deli” because it was believed a person was trapped in the basement.
“Reports of conditions on the first floor are starting to deteriorate,” Buffalo Fire radio.
There was a partial floor collapse. McCarthy fell through. Croom returned to search and save McCarthy, but crews lost contact with both men.
“Part of the floor collapsed in the store and at this time we have two members of the department missing,” declared then Buffalo Fire Commissioner Michael Lombardo as he spoke with reporters.
“It was obviously a very, very, very traumatic incident,” said Mike Tuberdyke, division chief, Buffalo Fire Department.
Tuberdyke teared up as he recalled the fire. He worked with both Croom and McCarthy.
Croom was from Ladder 7, McCarthy from Rescue One. Following an extensive investigation – the city fire department made improvements to the two in-two-out rule for city firefighters.
“Every day they are hit hard and harder about accountability - taking care of yourselves and crews and watching over each other," explained Tuberdyke.
Chief Tuberdyke tells 7 Eyewitness News “every day they strive for safety.”
“This is a very dangerous profession,” Tuberdyke remarked. “When you have a tragedy like this – you can’t help but take a step back and take a critical look at everything we do, if for no other reason this doesn’t happen again.”
McCarthy was 45, Croom just 34.
"Our loss and our pain continues—it’s something we think about all the time,” said Angie Heusinger, Croom's mother.
Heusinger says a heavy feeling takes over her every August.
“Because you know that something's coming and you know – it takes you back and for me – all I can do – like this year – when I wake up and I’m up in the middle of the night – I’ll say ten years ago he was still alive and I’ll probably keep doing...for every year,” Heusinger reflects.
Croom left behind two children. His son was born just two weeks after the fire and daughter was only one. McCarthy was the father of three adult children.
A decade later Croom’s mom talks with new, young fire recruits and shares the harsh reality of their jobs.
“Whenever I get the chance to talk to those young firefighters and let them know that one day you might go to work and you might not come home,” Heusinger responded.
The former Genesee Street fire site is now a vacant piece of property since the deli was demolished, but for families it's sacred ground. The McCarthy and Croom families and firefighters will gather there in the overnight hours marking the time of their deaths - a somber moment to remember their bravery.
Chief Tuberdyke reflected on Croom and McCarthy, remember their qualities.
“Anybody who knew these two guys – just knew that they were two of the best individuals that you could ever, ever hope to have with you if you had to go down that dark, hot hallway,” Tuberdyke declared. “One thing hasn’t changed is how much they are missed.”
“People have said to me - are you proud? I was always proud,” sobbed Heusinger.