In the room where two firefighters suffered the injuries that would lead to their deaths, the Valley Stream Fire Department, members of neighboring departments and congregants of Temple Gates of Zion came together to remember the pair and their ultimate sacrifice.
Last Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the Temple Gates of Zion fire, which claimed the lives of two volunteers. Hundreds gathered in the sanctuary that burned three decades ago to honor Capts. John Tate Jr. and Michael Moran.
It was about 3:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning — Nov. 22, 1979 — when the Fire Department was called to the temple, on North Corona Avenue. As sirens and horns blared throughout the village, Assistant Chief Joseph Fernandez recalled, firefighters began arriving at the scene and were met with light smoke and little visible fire. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” Fernandez said.
But shortly after firefighters began their operations and started removing valuable religious artifacts, the ceiling of the sanctuary collapsed without warning. About a dozen firefighters were inside. Some managed to escape unharmed, while others needed to be pulled from the rubble.
Fernandez noted that 14 firefighters went to the hospital that night. Seven had serious injuries, and five needed weeks or months of treatment to recover. “Some of the treatment was as painful as the initial injuries,” he said.
Tate died on Nov. 30, 1979, two days after his 28th birthday. “It’s hard to believe that it’s 30 years already,” said his former wife, Lois Schroeder, who added that she still thinks about him every day. “John loved the fire department. It was everything to him.”
Moran succumbed to his injuries on Dec. 7. He was just 23, and worked for Bertram Fire Equipment in Franklin Square.
Tate belonged to Engine Company No. 1 and Moran to Engine Company No. 4. Both graduated from Central High School. They are among the five firefighters to have lost their lives in the line of duty in Valley Stream, all between 1948 and 1979.
Former Chief Brian Ferrucci was injured that day in what he remembered “looked like kind of a routine fire.” He spent nearly a month in the burn center at Nassau County Medical Center, and was released on Dec 22.