FDNY boat in fatal crash lacked staffing, approval for cruise


The FDNY boat that collided with a charter vessel in the East River last month, causing the death of a visiting Belgian firefighter, lacked the required staffing and permission to ever set sail on a pleasure cruise, The Post has learned.

The fatal fireboat crash in June might have compounded the tragedy on the Hudson River this week. The FDNY’s heavily damaged Marine 1 Bravo was out of commission and unavailable to respond Wednesday when an overloaded private fishing boat with 14 aboard capsized near West 46th Street, killing a woman and 7-year-old child.

The fireboat is typically docked about two miles south at Pier 53 and would have been the closest emergency vessel to the accident site.

In the fireboat collision, a lone firefighter took four civilians – including Belgian Sgt. Johnny Beernaert, 53 – on an evening jaunt June 17 aboard the 31-foot Marine 1 Bravo, which is meant to be used for medical emergences and not civilian joyrides.

The boat is required to have at least two on-duty staffers aboard at all times – three if in service or responding to an emergency, the FDNY confirmed.

The Marine 1 Bravo boat was involved in accident on June 17, 2022.

Investigators are probing whether the firefighter piloting the vessel was acting on orders from bosses.

An FDNY lieutenant, captain and battalion chief have been removed from their duties in the Marine Division pending an ongoing investigation led by the US Coast Guard, but have not been suspended, The Post has learned. The unidentified firefighter has not been reassigned, officials said.

“There was a breakdown in the chain of communication,” said a source close to the probe.

The decision process should have gone as high as Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh – but never reached her, according to sources.

A firefighter took four civilians — including Belgian firefighter Sgt.  Johnny Beernaert — out on the FDNY vessel on June 17, 2022.
A firefighter took four civilians — including Belgian firefighter Sgt. Johnny Beernaert — out on the FDNY vessel on June 17, 2022.
Westhoek fire brigade
Retired FDNY Capt.  Stephen Lonergan and his wife Elizabeth were also on the boat.
Retired FDNY Capt. Stephen Lonergan and his wife Elizabeth were also on the boat.

“That was not brought to her attention. That did not go up the chain of command,” the insider said.

The crash occurred at 10:09 pm when the commercial fishing boat “Honcho” struck the fire boat, critically injuring Beernaert, who later died at Bellevue Hospital, according to the FDNY.

The veteran Belgian firefighter was visiting New York City firefighters he had befriended on prior visits. Also aboard was his wife Heidi Vermandel, retired FDNY Capt. Stephen Lonergan and his wife Elizabeth. All were treated for minor injuries, as was the firefighter piloting the boat.

Commercial fishing boat
Commercial fishing boat “Honco” struck the FDNY boat, killing Beernaert.

Beernaert’s family and Lonergan declined to comment. Operators of the fishing boat did not return messages.

When the civilian boat capsized in the Hudson Wednesday — while the damaged Marine 1 Bravo vessel was unusable — another small FDNY boat, the Marine 1 Alpha, responded to the scene. However, unlike Marine 1 Bravo, the non-medical boat lacks tables on which to lay patients and other equipment.

A firefighter on the Alpha dove into the water to help search for victims under the capsized boat, but was unable to reach any. The Alpha then returned to the shoreline, picked up members of FDNY’s Rescue 1 unit and two medics, before going back to the accident site.

Beernaert and his wife were visiting friends at the FDNY.
Beernaert and his wife were visiting friends at the FDNY.
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One retrieved victim was placed on the Alpha, where the medics “began immediate life-saving intervention,” said FDNY spokesman Jim Long. That person died.

Emergency medical personnel treated the other boaters, including two taken to a local hospital in critical condition.

Alpha and Bravo are stationed at the same Pier 53 location in Chelsea. Long insisted there would have been “no difference in response times” if Bravo took the call.

The rescue medics picked up by the Alpha brought equipment and “administered a very high level of pre-hospital care,” he added.

The FDNY would not explain why Beernaert and the three other civilians were taken on a scenic cruise.

Sources say it’s not uncommon for FDNY brass to entertain family or friends on the agency’s boats.

The FDNY said it permits civilians or non-FDNY employees to ride on the boats, but “the request would go up the chain of command for approval” by the Marine Division commander or fire commissioner.

The department has no written guidelines on using the boats for pleasure or other non-emergencies, but officials say the rules are common knowledge.

“We will conduct a review of policies and make changes as necessary,” Long said.

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