A 27-year-old rookie Staten Island firefighter died of an apparent heart attack yesterday while battling an immense blaze that leveled a West Brighton auto body shop.
Michael J. Gorumba of Aspen Knolls Way, Greenridge, collapsed after he fed a hose to his comrades on the front line of the fire, officials said. He was found by a plainclothes police officer slumped over the wheel of his company's fire truck, according to officials.
Gorumba was pronounced dead at St. Vincent's Medical Center, West Brighton, after attempts to resuscitate him at the scene and in the hospital failed, authorities said.
The cause of death is under investigation, pending an autopsy. Gorumba suffered from a heart murmur as a youth but passed a battery of tests, which found him fit for duty, officials said.
Gorumba, who graduated last month from the Fire Academy, is the first firefighter to die in the line of duty on Staten Island in 20 years, and the sixth in the city to die on duty this year. He is also the fourth in the last 10 months to have died as a result of heart attacks.
Gorumba leaves behind his wife, the former Lori Campbell, 27, who is four months' pregnant, and their 2-year-old son, Andrew.
"This is a real tragedy," a somber Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said outside St. Vincent's emergency room. "He very much loved being a firefighter. Our hearts go out to him and his family."
Six other firefighters and two emergency medical technicians suffered minor injuries in the blaze, officials said. The exact cause is under investigation, but was not initially considered suspicious, said Firefighter James Spollen, a Fire Department spokesman.
The fire broke out at 2:32 p.m. inside L&S Collision Auto Body at 41 Rector St., when a car that was being worked on burst into flames, fire officials said. Employees pushed the burning auto out of the garage but the fire had already spread to the building. No one else was inside at the time, according to the owner, who declined to give his name.
The rolling, seething blaze quickly engulfed the wood-frame structure, sending a 75-foot wall of smoke into the air. Tires and engine blocks exploded inside the garage and, after only a few minutes, half the building collapsed.
"I heard a couple of explosions and the roof blew up in the air," said Clove Road resident Anthony Boschi, whose yard is close to the property.
Port Richmond-based Engine Co. 157 was the first on the scene, rolling up in front of the entrance to the shop. A few seconds later, Gorumba's Engine Co. 163 arrived from its headquarters on Jewett Avenue in Westerleigh, pulling up behind the other engine, in front of a fire hydrant.
Firefighters from Engine 157 were spraying the out-of-control fire when a "mayday" call came over the radio, stating a firefighter was unaccounted for. Panic struck the emergency crews.
"You think, 'Where is he and how do we get him out?'" said Firefighter Rich Kane, an Annadale resident who was on a one-day assignment with Engine 157.
As Engine 157 kept fighting the blaze, several firefighters combed the area for Gorumba. A police officer who was nearby approached the 163 fire truck to find Gorumba -- in full gear -- unconscious inside the truck, fire officials said. He had never entered the garage.
"Member found, member at the rig," blared the fire radio.
The truck's driver and the police officer began to give Gorumba cardiopulmonary resuscitation and medics from a St. Vincent's ambulance nearby were summoned. Gorumba was quickly placed in the ambulance and taken to St. Vincent's.
The emergency medical technicians who were injured had been on the other side of the fire building and were running across the area to aid the medics who were attending to Gorumba when they became engulfed in smoke and spray from fire hoses, a source said.
Within a few minutes, the fire went to a third alarm. At its peak, 138 firefighters from Brooklyn and Staten Island and 33 units were at the scene. Firefighters hosed the fire from ladders high above the blaze, fighting back flames that threatened to engulf a row of houses on Clove Road behind the shop.
The houses sustained only minor heat damage, fire officials said.
Medical personnel continued to work on Gorumba at St. Vincent's, but their efforts failed, and he was pronounced dead around 3:30 p.m.
The fire was also declared under control around that time. In the minutes that followed, word began to spread through the ranks that Gorumba had died.
"Disbelief," was how Battalion Chief John Calderone of the 22nd Battalion described the scene.
"I mean, I hate to use the word routine, but this really was a routine fire," said Deputy Chief Theodore Goldfarb of Division 8. "[Gorumba] was in excellent shape. He was one of our fine young products."
As emergency crews cleaned up and fire marshals picked through the rubble of the leveled shop, Engine 163 sat quietly on Rector Street, its crew assembled at St. Vincent's. Its motor was turned off and the sounds of the fire radio echoed around the cabin.
Gorumba's bunker gear, which weighs about 60 pounds, was taken from the truck and placed across the street, where it was examined.
Eventually, after nearly all the trucks had left the scene, Engine 163 returned to its headquarters.
Outside the hospital emergency room, fire and police supervisors kept a silent vigil as officials attempted to contact Gorumba's family. Two firefighters left the emergency room, one with his arm in a sling, the other in his stocking feet.
Gorumba's wife arrived around 4:45 p.m. and was hurried inside, her eyes tear-streaked. Giuliani emerged from the hospital more than two hours later to speak to a throng of television cameras and reporters.
"We lost a young firefighter today ... who had realized his dream of being a firefighter in the greatest fire department in the world," he said.
First Deputy Fire Commissioner William M. Feehan said Gorumba's wife, when asked how she wanted Gorumba remembered, said, "Just tell them how much he loved his job."
Gorumba had worn Fire Department T-shirts since he was a boy, Giuliani said.
His death was the second tragedy to strike his family this year. His father died of a heart attack while playing handball several months ago, officials said.
Gorumba was appointed to the Fire Department on Feb. 4. He graduated from the department's training academy July 28 and was assigned to Engine Co. 163. While an academy student, he underwent 14 weeks of field training at Engine Co. 81 and Ladder Co. 46, both in the Bronx.
Gorumba passed a total of three heart and stress tests before his appointment, Feehan said. The last test was administered Feb. 1, when he was found to be in good health, officials said.
Dr. Kerry Kelly, the Fire Department's chief medical officer and a Grymes Hill resident, said all recruits undergo a routine electrocardiogram (EKG) and that Gorumba was administered an additional echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound examination of the heart, and a stress test. Feehan said the other tests were ordered after Gorumba informed the department he had a heart murmur as a youngster. The recent exams did not detect a murmur, said Feehan, adding that a number of firefighters have prior histories of heart murmurs.
However, Dr. Kelly said, the echocardiogram revealed that Gorumba had a condition called "mitral valve prolapse," which she said was present in about 20 to 30 percent of the population. The condition was not serious enough to prevent Gorumba from being hired as a firefighter, according to Dr. Kelly.
Mitral valve prolapse is a disorder in which the mitral heart valve does not close completely, allowing blood to leak back into the left atrium. In most cases the condition causes few or no symptoms, although Dr. Kelly said it can sometimes be associated with chest pains or abnormal heart rhythms.
Because the disorder is relatively minor, people with mitral valve prolapse are normally not required to limit their physical activity, Dr. Kelly said.
It was not immediately clear yesterday what role Gorumba's heavy gear, the near-90 degree heat and high humidity may have played in his death, although Dr. Kelly said all of those factors could have had a negative impact. She also said the adrenaline produced by being in a dangerous firefighting situation could have contributed to Gorumba's collapse.
"Obviously, it's a very stressful job," Dr. Kelly said.
An autopsy will be conducted today.
Gorumba was the first firefighter to die in the line of duty on the Island in two decades, according to Advance records. Firefighter Dennis M. Peterson also suffered a heart attack while battling a blaze in December 1981.
On June 17 of this year, Firefighters John Downey, Brian Fahey and Harry Ford died while battling a fire in an Astoria, Queens, hardware store. In January, two firefighters, Donald L. Franklin and Gregg McLoughlin, suffered heart attacks while on duty. Franklin died about an hour after a fire at a Bronx tenement, and McLoughlin died while working out on a treadmill while on duty. Firefighter Kenneth Kerr died of a heart attack in November after fighting a Bronx fire.
(Advance staff writer Chan-Joo Moon contributed to this report.)
© 2001 The Staten Island Advance. Used with permission.
Funeral Arrangements for Firefighter Gorumba
Funeral will take place from the Colonial Funeral Home, 2819 Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island, on Saturday, September 1, 2001, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 0930 hours, at St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, Hylan Boulevard and Tysens Lane.
Thursday, August 30, 2001: 1400 to 1600 hours and 1900 to 2100 hours
Friday, August 31, 2001: 1400 to 1600 hours and 1900 to 2100 hours
August 28, 2001, New York 1 News, "Firefighter Killed In Staten Island Blaze,"
August 28, 2001, Staten Island-WABC News, "Firefighter Killed, Seven Injured Battling Staten Island Blaze,"
August 29, 2001, New York Post, "Staten Island Firefighter Dies Fighting Fire in Auto Body Shop," by Philip Messing, Larry Celona and Dan Kadison, Ed Robinson and Kate Sheehy,
August 29, 2001, New York Times, "Heart Attack Kills New Firefighter During a Blaze on Staten Island,"by Richard Lezin Jones,
Staten Island Advance, "Firefighter Felled By Apparent Heart Attack At Auto Shop Blaze," by Frank Donnelly and Ryan Lillis,
August 29, 2001, New York Daily News, "Collapses battling S.I. fire - 5th to perish on job this year,"
August 29, 2001, Albany Times Union, "Firefighter Dies in Line of Duty," by Chaka Ferguson/AP
September 2, 2001, New York Times, "Last Farewell To Firefighter Who Had Just Fulfilled Wish," by Jayson Blair,
September 6, 2001, Fire Engineering Magazine, "Cardiomyopathy Caused Death of NYC Firefighter Gorumba,"
September 5, 2001, New York Daily News, "Fireman Charged With DWI In Smashup," by Michele McPhee,
September 16, 2001, KRT Photos, "NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, throws rice at the wedding of NYC police officer Michael Ferrito and Diane Gorumba at St. James Lutheran Church in Brooklyn,"
September 17, 2001, New York Daily News, "Rudy Keeps His Vow To Give Away Bride," by Mike Claffey and Michael Segell, Daily News Staff Writers,
September 17, 2001, Washington Post, "Despite furor, a vow is kept," by Elaine Rivera,
September 17, 2001, Newsday, "Like London In the Blitz . Praising city's bravery, Rudy rallies NYers," by Ron Howell,
September 18, 2001, The Record, "Kinder, Gentler Mayor Stands Tall, All Hail the Ubiquitous Giuliani the Scene," by Bob Ivry,
September 18, 2001, The Telegraph, "Giuliani gives away dead fireman's sister," by Philip Delves Broughton,
September 20, 2001, New York Times, "In America; The Right Answer," by Bob Herbert,
October 1, 2001, Vol. 56, No. 14, People Magazine, "Tower of Strength Commanding and Compassionate, Mayor Rudy Giuliani Bravely Leads His City Through Its Darkest Hour,"
November 9, 2001, The Globe and Mail, "Giuliani shines in time of crisis," by Jan Wong,
May 22, 2002, New York Daily News, "Survivor Bill Sparks Debate," by Frank Lombardi,
August 21, 2002, NYC Press Release,"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta Dedicate Plaque in Memory of Fallen Firefighter Michael Gorumba,"