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LINE OF DUTY DEATH
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By Life Member James Delawder
June 14, 2022

It was June 22, 1997.

I vividly remember responding on the Ladder Truck as its Captain. We were passing Putnam County Savings Bank just before 2AM. The temperature on the bank said it was over 90 degrees and it was humid. Little did I know that this was to be the worst day for me and the Brewster Fire Department. Michael Neuner (photo #1) was one of my Ladder Truck Lieutenants. He was responding on an engine. It was convention weekend and a number members were up at a convention in Lake George.

It was a basement fire and the basement was filled from floor to ceiling with stuff. Michael and the rest of the attack line crew came out to change their air bottles. I spoke to him while changing his Self-Contained Breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottle (photo #11). He said he was fine and that they were almost at the seat of the fire. That was the last time I saw him. He went back in with his crew. When his pass alarm off he was told evacuate. As he was exiting, he missed the staircase (photo #6) on his way out and made a wrong turn.

When the rest of the crew came out and asked for him, we realized he was missing. Several attempts to find and rescue him were made. One was lead by Captain Anthony Edwards and another by Rick Tofte. Chief Tom Palmer was called at Lake George. It would take hours for him to get to the scene. The Sheriff's Office called former Chief Thomas Hughes to the scene just as he was entering his home after work. Chief Thomas Hughes responded immediately. He had taken a course given by Instructor Anderson for just such a horrendous situation.

After the Marines, Mike was a drug undercover officer for the Putnam Count Sheriff's Office. He then followed that by road patrol. For the past couple of years, he had worked for the Peekskill Police Department. He had a smile that was unforgettable, a great sense of humor, and he loved his wife and children.

Funeral arrangements were made with the assistance of NYC representatives. The wake was held at the Middle School in Carmel on Fair Street. The Middle School was necessary to accommodate the huge number who wished to pay their respects. At the funeral, the Brewster Fire Department (BFD) marched from Beecher's Funeral Home to St. Lawrence Church (Photos # 2&3) for a funeral mass.. The church was packed. Many fire departments and civilians stood outside the church because the church was filled to capacity. The turnout for the procession was the largest ever seen in the area. Only Putnam County Fire Departments, and Michael's brother's fire department were permitted to go to the St. Lawrence Cemetery because of space limitation. This was necessary because it was such a large group which included fire personnel from many states.

The Eulogy is depicted in photos #8,9, & 10. Part of it elegantly states:

"To those of you who did not know Michael the way we did, words can never capture the true essence of this man. Bravery. Valor. Courage. Devotion. Benevolence. These are just a small part of Michael's sincere nature."

For many of us who knew Michael, it is a wound that will NEVER HEAL.


Sources
1. Newspaper articles compiled by deceased Chief and Historian Ed Schneider
Photo #4 The News Times of June 27,1997
Photo #12 the Journal News 10 years later at statue dedication
Photo #2 by Frank Becerra
2. Interview with Chief Tom Palmer
3. Interview with Chief Thomas Hughes
4. Author responded to call and what was at the scene until just before Mike's body was recovered


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