BY CHRISTINE ARMARIO
June 14, 2005
Hempstead firefighters rushing to the home of a 54-year-old man reported to be experiencing a heart attack made a harrowing discovery when they arrived: The injured man was one of their own.
Second Assistant Chief Scott Clark unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate his fellow firefighter, James O’Neil, as O’Neil’s wife and nephew looked on.
“I have a job to do, this is what my steps are,” Clark said as he recounted what was racing through his head during the ordeal. “I did what my training told me.”
An ambulance arrived and transported O’Neil to Mercy Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7:52 a.m., Chief Roger Faulk said.
“It didn’t work out,” Clark said. “He’s going to be missed.”
O’Neil had been a firefighter with the department for 32 years. He worked his way up to captain, but in later years became the fire truck driver for the department, Faulk said.
“He was a book of knowledge,” Faulk said. “At any time, he would take the time to teach anybody what they wanted to know.”
Faulk said O’Neil was the one who taught him how to “size the fires,” assessing a fire and determining how to put it out before even arriving at the scene.
“He was a jokester, fun-loving,” Faulk said. “The greatest guy you could ever be around.”
Faulk said O’Neil had complained of feeling sick at 1 a.m. yesterday morning, when the department responded to a report of a car fire. But O’Neil dismissed the pain as indigestion and went home to sleep.
When he woke up, O’Neil told his wife, Lynn, that he was not feeling well and went into the bathroom. She later found him there, unconscious.
While Lynn O’Neil called the fire department, their nephew, John Occiphinti, also a firefighter, began administering CPR, Clark said.
“I didn’t put the address together with the call until I pulled up in front of the house,” Clark said. “I meet his nephew… says uncle is in cardiac arrest.”
The O’Neil family could not be reached for comment.
The Hempstead Fire Department is planning a memorial service for O’Neil at 8 p.m. Thursday at Williams Funeral Home, 181 Greenwich St. The funeral will be held there at 10 a.m. Friday.