FDNY Firefighter Matthew Long looked frail as he rolled up in a wheelchair, gray stubble sprouting from his pale face. The 39-year-old firefighter, critically injured by a bus while riding his bicycle to work during last year’s transit strike, was minutes from leaving the hospital where he spent five months and underwent 15 surgeries.
With a huge effort, Long, son of state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, stood and hobbled on his crutches to the podium in the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital boardroom. A crowd of hundreds that included relatives, firefighters, friends and hospital workers spilled into the hallway, lobby and outside the main entrance.
“With each step I walk, I feel lucky,” Long said, starting to sob. But, he added, “I haven’t seen the light yet at the end of the tunnel.”
Long is suing the bus owner, the company that hired the charter bus, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the bus driver, who was carrying workers into the city during last December’s three-day strike by subway and bus workers.
Long, who contends the accident would not have happened had the union not gone on strike, said he rode his bike that day rather than drive his car to avoid traffic. “My action (lawsuit) is a direct result of illegal action,” he said Wednesday. A union spokesman declined to comment on Long’s lawsuit.
In April, a judge fined the union $2.5 million for the strike that brought buses and subways to a halt. Also last month, the union’s president, Roger Toussaint, served five days in jail because of the strike, which violated the state’s Taylor law barring public employees from striking.
Long suffered “devastating” internal injuries and multiple fractures, said Dr. Dean Lorich, one of the surgeons who operated on Long.
Long still has at least two more surgeries and a year and a half of recovery and rehabilitation, Lorich said.
It’s unlikely Long will ever fight fires (his most recent assignment was physical fitness trainer at the department’s academy), and it’s too soon to tell whether he will be able to run marathons or triathlons again, the doctor said.
“I don’t think he’ll fully recover but he can get close,” said Lorich, adding, “He’s doing remarkably well from where he was five months ago.”
Wearing a red and white T-shirt that read, “Go, Matt, Go!” Long emerged from the hospital into the late-morning sunshine. A group of bagpipers plied their instruments while some in the crowd chanted “Mat-ty! Mat-ty!” and yelled, “That a boy, Matty!” as Long made his way to the beige 1963 Ford Galaxie convertible waiting to carry him away. The eyes of many were tear-filled.
His father, mother, and a number of relatives including some of his six brothers and two sisters, cousins and uncles were there for his release.
“I love all of my children but you have to understand today is a very special day,” his father said earlier. “He’s climbed the mountain.”
His son paused outside the hospital. “I’m the richest man in New York,” he said before he got into the front passenger seat.
By MARCUS FRANKLIN
Associated Press Writer