Nearly 150 people gathered in the Richardson Street Firehouse Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the death of Firefigher Daniel Pudjak, the 23-year-old Greepoint native who died in the line of duty last June 21.
During the hour-long ceremony, a plaque and an eight-by-10-foot granite etching in Pudjak’s name were dedicated on the walls of Ladder 146, permanently immortalizing a firefighter who died tragically young.
The procession then moved outside to unveil a temporary street sign proclaiming the northwest corner of Richardson and Leonard streets “Firefighter Daniel F. Pudjak Street.”
(The street-sign was taken down shortly thereafter. Though the street re-naming already has the approval of Community Board 1, it awaits final approval from the City Council at a later date.)
Dignitaries like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, and Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano were on hand to make speeches, rounding out “a fitting tribute to a great kid,” in the words of Captain Jerry Horton, who Pudjak worked under in the company.
“He had a great effect on the firehouse even though he was really young – he was a good guy. Knowing Danny, he would probably be embarrassed by it, but it’s what he deserved,” Horton said.
In only his third year with the FDNY, Pudjak died while fighting a blaze in an illegally converted East Williamsburg loft. The fire started from a lit cigarette a woman failed to extinguish in a windowsill.
Pudjak, a roof specialist, was sent to the top of the building to cut ventilation holes. While carrying a large saw and around 100 pounds of equipment, he attempted to step from a ladder to a bulkhead on the building’s roof.
But he slipped and fell to his death.
“The city and this community will always remember Daniel with gratitude and pride,” summed up Bloomberg.
Horton described Pudjak as a role model for younger firefighters because of his passion for the job and what he termed his “hands-on style.”
“He didn’t just want to be shown how to do it, he wanted to do it after he was shown. He was a quick learner who was able to apply what we taught him pretty rapidly,” he said.
On the day of his death, Pudjak showed up to the firehouse an hour early. The call for the fire that led to his death came during that hour.
Horton said Pudjak’s death “had a deep effect on the company because he was such a conscientious guy.”
Pudjak is the sixth firefighter from the Richardson Street firehouse to die in the line of duty.
The latest before him was Angelo Cozza, who died in 2001 in his mid-thirties from cancer caused by smoke inhaled while on the job.
Pudjak attended St. Cecilia’s School on Monitor Street, the parish where his mother, Christina, is a Eucharistic minister. He went on to St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows in 2001, where his father, Leo, is a religion teacher.
A star pitcher at St. Francis and an avid mountain climber, Pudjak took his interest in physical fitness to SUNY Cortlandt, where he graduated with a degree in kinesiology in 2005.
At the time of his death, Pudjak was training for a triathlon. He also worked at the Greenpoint YMCA on Meserole Avenue as a personal trainer, specializing in helping people rehabilitate from injuries.
Pudjak’s parents were on hand at the ceremony. They have maintained close ties with Pudjak’s colleagues at the firehouse.
“They call us and make sure guys are okay, they sometimes come by and bring meals for us. It was a traumatic thing for everybody,” Horton said.
Pudjak’s brother, Matthew, recently graduated from the Fire Academy.