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Farewell, Comrade

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Pierce O’ Reilly

Tears flowed freely at St. Rose of Lima Catholic church in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Monday afternoon as Msgr. Dan Hurley read an Irish blessing at the end of the funeral Mass of New York City firefighter Gregg McLoughlin.

"May the road always rise before you, may the wind be always be at your back . . . and until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of his hands," Hurley said.

The blessing was a favorite with McLoughlin, 39, who died of an apparent heart attack while exercising in the South Ozone Park firehouse on Thursday, Jan. 4.

McLoughlin, who was proud of his Irish heritage, had the Irish blessing hanging prominently in his home since he received it some years ago. His grandfather came from Derry, while his grandmother hailed from County Mayo.

Thousands of firefighters and fire department officials lined the streets outside the small, tranquil church on Monday to pay a final tribute to their fallen brother.

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McLoughlin, a 15-year department veteran assigned to Engine Company 302, was discovered in the firehouse basement lying on a treadmill where he had been exercising. He had no apparent heart problems and had passed a medical examination earlier in the year.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen joined family members and friends to pay their last respects.

The Emerald pipe and drum band played "Amazing Grace" as McLoughlin’s colleagues lowered his coffin from the fire engine hearse outside the church as the Irish flag fluttered in the blustery, cold breeze.

McLoughlin’s 9-year-old son, Ryan, walked slowly behind the coffin, carrying his father’s cap, while the firefighter’s wife, Margaret, clung dearly to a family photo.

"You don’t have to be strong today — it’s alright to weep," Msgr. Hurley said in his homily. "Gregg was a good father, a dedicated husband, a strong, caring and giving companion, and it’s difficult to let him go.

"Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did he die?"

McLoughlin was appointed to the department on March 15, 1986, shortly after receiving a bachelor’s degree from SUNY-Albany. After completing the department’s training academy, he was assigned to Ladder 16 in Manhattan. His brother Robert is also a New York City firefighter, as was his father, retired Battalion Chief John McLoughlin.

Msgr. Hurley, who was friendly with the family, spoke about McLoughlin’s favorite song, "Here, There and Everywhere," by the Beatles.

"Gregg loved his wife and family and the line of this song — ‘I want her beside me and loves never dies’ — show how great a father and husband he was," Hurley said.

When McLouglin wasn’t putting out fires or going on outings with his family and FDNY friends, he coached and trained several basketball, soccer and baseball teams.

"Gregg always gave up his own time to be with others," Hurley said. "His sense of humor and energy were so evident on the coaching fields around here."

In 1997, the firefighter helped to deliver a baby girl outside his firehouse when a pregnant woman went into labor. Mayor Giuliani went to congratulate him on that occasion. The mayor put off his own

State of the City address Monday to attend McLoughlin’s funeral.

"Is there a more important place for a mayor at a time like this?" he said in the eulogy. "The thoughts of all 16,000 New York firefighters are with the McLoughlin family today.

"He and his colleagues have made the city a safer and more decent place for everyone. Gregg did his work superbly, putting his own life in danger to save others."

McLoughlin’s best friend, Don Wonderlich, was with McLoughlin just before he went to the gym.

"It was a typical morning in the firehouse, coffee and bagels, Gregg was joking around with the lads, and tears of joy came from his eyes as he walked away," Wonderlich said. "I’ll always remember that image. He was full of joy and laughter."

Wonderlich spend 10 years working with McLoughlin. They took several fishing trips together. Wonderlich said the friend left a indelible mark on everyone he met and everywhere he went.

"Gregg never complained," Wonderlich said. "If it was filing tax returns for the other guys at the firehouse or a job nobody else wanted to do, Gregg would get on with the task at hand and say nothing. Today our house is falling down around us and we all miss him so much already."

McLoughlin’s older bother Robert had tears in his eyes as he spoke to his colleagues. "Gregg would have wanted us to be happy today, buts it’s not easy," he said. "For me, Gregg was an exceptional brother, he was fun to be around, playing practical jokes on everyone. He always reached out to me, inviting me to ball games and on holiday trips.

"We met for lunch just a few days ago and it was so nice to have sat together. When we greeted, I leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek and that will always stay with me."

Fire Commissioner Von Essen said that McLoughlin was the best firefighter he could have been. "He made a difference to everyone and his dedication and commitment to the job won’t be forgotten," he said.

McLouglin is the 773rd fireman to die in the line of duty in the department’s 135-year history. He survived by his wife, Margaret; two daughters, Jacqueline, 13, and Sydney, 11, and his son Ryan.

The members of Engine Company 302 have set up a scholarship fund to benefit the McLoughlin children.

He was buried at Grace Episcopal cemetery.

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