Bravest Loses Life Responding to Explosion Blocks Away from Campus


A New York City fire chief died while responding to an explosion of a house that was allegedly being used to grow marijuana on West 234th Street on Sept. 27, according to police.

Batallion Chief Michael Fahy, 44, died after he was hit by falling debris while directing his team in how to respond to the emergency. The father of three was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian later that day.

At around 6:20 a.m., a neighbor reported smelling what they had thought to be a gas leak from a house only about four blocks from Manhattan College’s engineering building, Leo.

A loud whistle-like noise was also heard on the property, leading the fire fighters to believe that there had been a break in the gas line. However, when the firefighters entered the house, they found what seemed to be a small operation drug lab, and immediately called for the help of police.

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The NYPD came to the scene, and while waiting for Con Edison to arrive after everyone evacuated the home, at around 7:30 a.m., the private home located at 300 W. 234th St., suddenly exploded. The explosion caused all windows to be blown out, and a large piece of the roof flying in the air.

Unfortunately, Fahy’s life as a father and a firefighter disappeared after the explosion of this marijuana grow-house on the corner of Tibbett Avenue. Not only was 44-year-old Fahy, of Battalion 19, a 17-year member of the FDNY, he was also a father of three and a trained lawyer.

The neighbors surrounding the exploding house were startled by the loud noise that most of them woke up to. Manhattan College freshman Joseph Liggio was at the scene around 11:30 a.m., and spoke to some residents to hear their reactions. Cindy O’Connor, a nearby resident said at around 7:30 a.m., she heard a loud bang and felt her house shake.

She reported exiting her house immediately after, and noted that the resultant fire didn’t last long. O’Connor also stated that she never noticed many people going in or out of the house, and it often looked uninhabited. She also took notice to the backyard and patio area, where she said it was usually covered up in some way.

Matthew Chrisphonte and Nicholas Chrisphonte, nearby residents and brothers were both sleeping at the time of  the explosion, but were said to be awoken by a big boom and the shaking of their house. They heard yelling and screaming, and watched children being led outside and away from the nearby daycare facility. The brothers noted that their parents had reported smelling gas at around 6:30 a.m. Matthew and Nicholas observed the high traffic in the past at the house, however said it has been relatively quiet over the past few months.

Later that day, police arrested the man who’s name was on the lease of the house, 34-year-old Julio Salcedo Contrer. Contrer, who was found in Cliffside Park, New Jersey after a brief manhunt, was caught by the Regional Fugitive Task Force, which is made up of New York Police Department detectives and United States marshals. After capturing Contrer, police brought in a second man for questioning; who police say had a connection to the explosion.

The second man who was brought in for questioning by police, in connection to the explosion of this grow-house, was arrested on Wednesday, September 28th. 32-year-old Garivaldi Castillo of Washington Heights was brought into police custody and is currently facing two counts of criminal possession of marijuana.

A few months prior to the explosion, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned of the dangers of marijuana grow houses, explaining how they use highly explosives, such as propane, for the CO2 converter to increase the production in the so-called lab. These highly explosive materials are a threat to first responders.

The owners of the home, Violeta and Onesimo Guerrero, were said to have owned multiple properties in the area, which police also inspected on Tuesday.

Police and investigators are still struggling to determine exactly how much marijuana was growing in the house, but reported that it was teeming with the plant. Prior to the explosion however, police reported that they were investigating the house as a possible grow house weeks earlier. However, police are still investigating whether or not the cause of this explosion could be traced back to marijuana butane hash oil, otherwise known as “dabbing.”

This homemade fix involves butane vapors that could explode unexpectedly at any given moment. “Dabbing” is said to be method of altering marijuana with butane to make it look like wax, otherwise known as a recipe for disaster. The wax is said to have higher contents of THC, giving the user a stronger high. Investigators are still looking into the cause of it all, but are sure that the gas odor came from the scene before the explosion occurred, although it was said to be gone 30 minutes before the explosion.

Not only did this explosion take the life of Fahy, it also injured 20 other people, including some Con Edison workers. The investigation is still ongoing, and investigators are still looking into the overall cause. Whether it was electrical related, or caused by the attempt to make marijuana butane hash oil, the loss of Chief Michael Fahy is being mourned by friends, family, and officers everywhere. The FDNY has posthumously promoted him to deputy chief, the highest civil service promotion available in his department.