Currents News Staff and Bill Miller
BELLE HARBOR — Thousands of firefighters from the FDNY and units from around the metropolitan area lined the streets of this oceanside community Friday morning to honor one of their own, who died in the line of duty five days earlier.
Funeral services for Firefighter Timothy Klein, 31, were held at St. Francis de Sales Church, his home parish on Rockaway Beach Blvd. Mayor Eric Adams, Acting FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, and Bishop Robert Brennan attended.
Klein, a six-year veteran, was remembered by family and fellow firefighters as a jolly prankster and a hard-charging, straightforward first responder who never shirked from danger or community service.
He died while battling a three-alarm fire Sunday, April 24 in a Canarsie home. He is survived by his father, Patrick, a retired member of the FDNY, his mother Diane, and three younger sisters.
Klein was set to be in the wedding party of close pal James O’Connor and his wife-to-be Danielle Mulle — and the couple has no plans to replace him, according to a friend. The funeral memorial for Klein will be left on the altar for the wedding Mass.
Diane Klein said her son, Timothy, was born with debilitating anemia which slowed his growth, but he was scrappy and played every sport he could in school. Meanwhile, he endured rounds of medications, blood transfusions, and the removal of his spleen.
As Klein fought for his life, his father’s fellow firefighters did not hesitate to donate blood, she said.
“So there is lots of firefighting blood in him, no doubt about it,” she added. “His ultimate dream job was to be a fireman. It was legit, and he loved everything about being a firefighter. His assignment to [Ladder Company] 170, Canarsie’s bravest, was now a reality.”
Speakers recalled how Klein offered a eulogy at the funeral of Firefighter Steven H. In Pollard, a fellow member of Ladder 170 who died when he fell through a gap on the Mill Basin Bridge while responding to a two-car crash in January 2019.
Klein was active in the Firefighter Steven H. Pollard Memorial Foundation, which was formed after his death to provide scholarships in his name. Klein also worked with the Fight for Firefighters Foundation, a non-profit organization that constructs wheelchair ramps in homes for people who need them. He spent countless off-duty hours helping build those ramps, as well as driving retired firefighters to their hospital appointments.
Klein was appointed to the FDNY on December 28, 2015. After graduating from the Fire Academy, he was assigned to Ladder Company 170 in Canarsie.
Fellow firefighter Vincent Geary said the company jokingly called him the “Golden Child” because he frequently gained accolades from FDNY commanders and other members of the department.
But, according to Geary, Klein was equally famous for his firehouse pranks that were accomplished with creativity and stealth, calling him a “prankster hiding in plain sight.” He recalled how Klein slipped a bouillon cube into a fellow fireman’s coffee; the victim was alarmed to find his coffee had turned into beef-flavored gravy.
“I knew Timmy well before the fire department,” Geary said. “I’m only three years older than him. We grew up a few short blocks from each other, and we both attended this very school where we are today — St. Francis DeSales.
“But it wasn’t until I walked through the door at Canarsie that I understood the man that he became and the person I looked up to.”
He recalled how when they were both new, they responded to a fire at a daycare center. He said Klein conducted a search for children, “showing leadership, courage, and confidence.”
“Everything went smoothly and safely on that job, thanks to Tim,” Geary said.
During the fire on Sunday, conditions deteriorated rapidly and the incident commander ordered all members from the building, according to an FDNY report.
“At that time, a collapse occurred inside the building, injuring four members,” the report stated.
Geary said he responded to the blaze with Klein, adding: “He responded as he always did — prepared, excited, eager for what that job would bring. He died doing what he loved. Being a fireman was his true purpose in life — a hero.”
“I’ll end this by speaking for all of Canarsie,” Geary said. “I will miss your infectious smile and contagious laugh. “I know you and Steve are together again, someone you truly loved and missed. Canarsie will never be the same again, but we’ll continue to get back on the trucks, and do what you loved, knowing you are always with us.”
Toward the end of the funeral Mass, Bishop Brennan offered comfort to Klein’s family and the FDNY.
“Today,” he said, “while we honor Tim’s memory and celebrate his life, we also, probably most importantly, celebrate his new life — his eternal life. We just celebrated Easter, and we’re still in that sense of Easter. That means that God wants us to live forever.
“We know that we’ll see Tim again, and enjoy his friendship and love. And we pray for the strength to know that he’s with us now, even from his place with God. May God grant him the reward of all of his goodness, bring him to the happiness of all the saints and, one day, reunite us in his love.”
Belle Harbor, a community of about 30,000 on the Rockaway Peninsula, dropped everything to honor Klein.
Schools and businesses closed, and a few hours before the funeral, people of all ages brandished huge American flags along the roads leading into the community. Heavy traffic forced funeral-goers to find parking and walk about a mile into town, shoulder-to-shoulder with firefighters clad in their dress-blue uniforms.
A worker at Callie’s, a restaurant down the street from the church, explained that Belle Harbor is home to scores of retired and active-duty civil servants. Many of them are members of the FDNY. Several of them died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two months later, the community endured the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which killed all 260 passengers and crew and five people on the ground. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded Belle Harbor, but it recovered.
The worker declined to give his name, saying he, too, was retired FDNY. But, he said, Belle Harbor folks band together in tough times, just as they did for Klein’s funeral. Firefighters and police officers lined the procession route, silently saluting, as the fire truck carrying Klein’s casket rolled out of town.
Jim Price, a 15-year resident of Belle Harbor, was helping out at Callie’s, serving the crush of hungry firefighters who filled the premises after the funeral.
“I never saw anything like this in my whole life,” said Price. “I mean, just look at this, for one guy. It’s a heck of a club to be in.”