Lieutenant 'Was Like An Angel on Earth'
Updated: 08-31-2006 12:18:52 AM
Lt. Howard Carpluk was mourned yesterday by family and friends, by fellow firefighters, and by children who live and play near the Bronx firehouse where the decorated 20-year veteran was stationed, not far from the site of the fire where he suffered fatal injuries.
"He was like an angel on earth," Felix Jimenez, 11, said yesterday, standing outside the Engine 42 firehouse on Monroe Avenue, where well-wishers placed a memorial of votive candles and yellow roses.
The family of Carpluk, 43, of Yaphank, gathered in grief at the home he shared with his wife, Debra, son Bradley, 14, and daughter, Paige, 10.
Carpluk was the lieutenant who invited neighborhood kids to slide down the brass pole in the firehouse and took them for rides on fire trucks. He was the one who joined in their street games and threw an excellent curveball.
"You used to think it was in the middle, like right there ... but really, it was down low," Jimenez said. He also helped keep Monroe Avenue safe, responding when there was an accident or a violent incident, other neighbors said.
At the Engine 42 station house and at firehouses across the city, flags were lowered to half staff in tribute to Carpluk and firefighter Michael Reilly, 25, who was assigned to Engine 75 in the Bronx. Both died of injuries they suffered when the floor of a discount store at 1575 Walton Ave., in the Mount Eden section, collapsed beneath them. Reilly died Sunday; Carpluk died yesterday at Montefiore Medical Center.
"Today, New York City has lost another one of its bravest," Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement yesterday.
Carpluk was awarded two citations for bravery, including one for a heroic rescue on March 30, 1988, when he retrieved two unconscious men from a blazing Bronx apartment, the mayor's office said. He began his career at Ladder Company 31 in the Bronx and was promoted to lieutenant on Feb. 6, 1999.
"When I met with the men of the Engine 42 this morning, they told me how the lieutenant faced each and every challenge before him bravely and unflinchingly," Bloomberg said.
Carpluk's relatives described him as a hero of 9/11 for risking his life and health to save World Trade Center victims on the day of the terrorist attacks.
Kay Fisher, his mother-in-law, recalled that on Sept. 11 he was driving to Vermont to help work on a friend's house. But when he heard the first plane had struck the trade center, he sped to Manhattan and joined the rescue effort, she said.
"He turned right around and went right into the thick of it," she said, soon after she arrived yesterday at the Carpluks' home. "He's a wonderful person. He'd give the shirt off his back to you. He loves his job."
Friends said he was a fine athlete, a loving family man and a concerned neighborhood activist who fought a Suffolk County decision to reopen a nearby shooting range on July 15, saying it caused lead pollution and unacceptable noise levels. Carpluk grew up on Union Boulevard in East Islip, said childhood neighbor Melissa Tropeano, who graduated with him in 1980 from East Islip High School.
A family friend, Johan McConnell, said Carpluk was devoted to his children, coaching their sports teams and attending games. "He was only 43, very young," McConnell said. "He was a very gung-ho kind of guy. I can see him running into the building" to fight the fire on Sunday, she said.
Sal Ciampi, Carpluk's football and baseball coach at East Islip High School, said he was a starting quarterback and outfielder. "He was just a tremendous young man. An unbelievable team man."