The Lieutenant & the Proby
99-22-8943 - Thursday June 3, 1999
In the basement, the circuit breaker panel had overheated and started a fire in the walls. At 1855 hours the alarm was transmitted with ladder 173 first due. Captain Vincent Fowler entered the basement to find the seat of the fire. Followed closely by probationary Fire Fighter Paul Torns, they clambered down a narrow flight of stairs and encountered Colliers Mansion type conditions.
A few minutes after water started the alarm went off in Paul Torns' mask. Under optimum conditions he had 6 minutes of air left. Captain Fowler ordered everyone out of the basement. The water was having no effect and the ceiling was beginning to give way. In the confusion Fowler lost track of Torns. He called out and started searching for him just as his bottle emptied.
Torns found him and gave Fowler a few shots of air from what remained in his tank. In the blinding smoke and confusion both men were unsure of the way out of the basement. With his last breath, Fowler yelled a Mayday into his radio and lost consciousness. Torns tried in vain to drag Fowler out of the basement but debris impeded his progress.
Help quickly arrived but it still took about 15 minutes to get out of the building. Captain Fowler was not breathing. He was brought to Jamaica Hospital where doctors had to restart his heart multiple times.
Amongst the family members that were keeping a vigil at the hospital was his father, retired Battalion Chief Vincent Fowler, brother Fire Fighters John & Andy Fowler, his wife, & 3 daughters.
At 1235 hours of June 4, Captain Fowler lost his last fight. Signal 5-5-5-5 rang out for the 771st time. In keeping with the highest tradition of the Department, Captain Fowler sacrificed his life for that of his "Proby."