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FDNY chief who oversaw fireboat involved in fatal crash forced to retire, lawsuit contends

Thomas Tracy, New York Daily News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — A New York City Fire Department chief who oversaw a fireboat involved in a fatal East River crash last year has been forced to turn in his retirement papers, court papers reveal.

Chief Richard Blatus was FDNY’s acting chief of operations at the time of the June 17, 2022, incident that took the life of Johnny Beernaert, a Belgian firefighter aboard the fireboat Marine 1 Bravo on a tour in the East River.

A month after the crash, Blatus was moved to another position. He eventually put in papers for his retirement, which sources said took formal effect Thursday.

A lawsuit filed by a group of FDNY chiefs and Daily News sources say Blatus, 63, was browbeaten into retirement by the Fire Department.

Blatus, 63, is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit by high-ranking chiefs who claim they were harassed, maligned and ultimately demoted because they were too old in Kavanagh’s eyes. But his retirement highlights tactics used to get older FDNY chiefs to retire, say sources and legal papers.

The lawsuit, filed March 23, also alleges that the nighttime fireboat joyride that took Beernaert’s life was initiated by a retired FDNY captain who “activated FDNY’s Marine 1 Bravo and took civilians on a ride without authorization.” The captain had retired from the department before the crash, sources said.


A source with knowledge of the case confirmed that the retired captain cajoled an active FDNY member to pilot the boat, but never asked anyone of a higher rank for permission to take the vessel out.

Beernaert, his wife, the retired FDNY captain and the captain’s wife were on a nighttime ride on the East River aboard Marine 1 Bravo when the fireboat collided with a charter boat, the Honcho, near Pier 11.

Beernaert suffered a head injury in the crash and died at Bellevue Hospital. His wife, Heidi Vermandel, was not injured.

The retired FDNY captain and his wife, who were also on the boat, weren’t harmed.


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