An FDNY battalion chief was killed by falling debris when a suspected drug den exploded in the Bronx Tuesday, leveling a two-story home and injuring at least 12 other people.
Battalion Chief Michael Fahy was a 17-year FDNY veteran who served through 9/11 and a father of three. A convoy of uniformed and non-uniformed firefighters stood outside the hospital to pay their respects as his body was taken to a funeral home.
"He was on the rise. He was a star," a visibly emotional FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters, adding that he knew Fahy's father - a former fire chief himself - personally.
"It's a sad day. Thankfully, this doesn't happen every day, but when it does, it doesn't make it any easier. We lost a hero today," Nigro said.
A person of interest in the case, a renter of the exploded home, was picked up by law enforcement in Cliffside Park, New Jersey Tuesday afternoon.
Multiple police, civilians and Con Ed workers were injured following the 7:30 a.m. blast at the private home on West 234th Street near Tibbett Avenue in Kingsbridge. About an hour before the explosion, firefighters had responded to a report of a gas smell at the location and found the drug lab, police say.
A law enforcement source tells NBC 4 New York officials believe the home was a marijuana growing operation. Flammable materials like propane are used to manufacture the drug, but the alleged pot growhouse would be the first such drug lab to blow up in the city, the law enforcement source said.
The NYPD had an ongoing investigation on that block over the last two weeks, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said.
After the FDNY found the suspected lab, it called the NYPD in to investigate but the house exploded before officers could assess the location, according to police. Correspondence on emergency radio revealed immediate concern.
"We got men down ... with an explosion," a firefighter told a dispatcher, requesting multiple ambulances on a rush. "We got a man down ... firefighter down ... bad shape."
Streets were shut down in the area as utility crews, firefighters and police cordoned off the site. Video from the scene shows the home completely demolished, the roof in shambles, partially collapsed over one of the building's sides. Piles of debris rained onto the street, covering the road and nearby parked cars.
The Department of Buildings was inspecting buildings in the area for structural stability. Full-vacate orders have been issued to buildings no. 300 and 304 on West 234th Street, and a partial-vacate order was issued for the side yard at 3251 Tibbett Ave., a spokesman said.
One Instagram user said the blast "shook my whole neighborhood," adding it "felt like a bomb went off." Another neighbor said her windows shook. Still another said she felt as if there had been an earthquake.
A photo taken from the 238th Street subway platform showed a plume of smoke rising into the air.
The DEA was assisting the NYPD in the investigation.
Fahy, who was promoted to chief in June 2012, had a doctorate from New York Law School. He got his undergraduate degree from Binghamton University in 1994 and his master's degree at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security's Naval Postgraduate School, according to education records.
He lived in Yonkers with his wife and 6- and 11-year-old sons and 8-year-old daughter. Fahy joined the FDNY in 1999 and rose to the rank of battalion cheif in 2012.
Members of Fahy's FDNY firehouse -- Battalion 19, Engine Company 75, Ladder Company 33 -- will drape purple and black bunting in his honor Wednesday morning. A memorial was growing outside the firehouse by late Tuesday.
Mayor de Blasio ordered all flags on city buildings to be flown at half-staff each day from sunrise to sunset until Fahy is buried.
"Our hearts go out to the Fahy family -- a family so devoted to this city," de Blasio said in a statement. "Michael's father -- a fire chief before him. A family that has given so much and today made the ultimate sacrifice to this city."
The FDNY Foundation started a fund for Fahy's family.