Bob Tolley: Grieving father of a fallen hero, NYC firefighter William Tolley, literally and figuratively

Bob Tolley of New Smyrna Beach, FL, grieves for his son,m NYC firefighter, William Tolley, killed in the line of duty, Thursday. / Headline SurferHeadline Surfer photo illustration / Shown above is New Smyrna Beach resident and citizen watchdog Bob Tolley, Bob Tolley and in the image next to him is that of the younger of his two sons, William Tolley, a New York City firefighter, who was called to the ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. William Tolley was killed in the line of duty Thursday battling a fire when he fell to his death from the roof of a five-story apartment building in Queens. The 9/11 remembrancve video shot on the eve of the 10th annivcersary of 9/11 is posted below, along with links to that coverage.
 
Henry Frederick / Internet News Publisher / Headline SurferBy HENRY FREDERICK
People, Places & Things
Headline Surfer

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- There are precious few individuals like Bob Tolley, who fire me up, who give give me reason to believe, that there are true stewards in a community who will scratch and claw, if they have to, to speak up when they see a wrong.

They say you can't fight City Hall. Well, I can attest that I've seen Tolley do it quite successfully.

I, too, am willing to go against the grain and put them on the map if public records and other fact-checking tools I rely on, show there is reason to give them a voice in my role as an internet news publisher. Often times, citizen watchdogs like Bob Tolley don't get the time of day from traditional print media. So when I saw an email that he sent me Friday afternoon, I put everything else aside to work this tragic breaking news: "My younger son Billy the fireman died yesterday while working a fire."

I was mortified. I had gotten an initial email from him Thursday night, but I was sick with asthma -- alternating between bed rest and breathing treatments with my portable nebulizer breathing machine most of the day, and it didn't connect with me when I checked my email at 10 p.m. and one time I called him after 9 p.m. and he was none too happy about it.  In this first email, he had written:  "I lost my Billy today, and what's left of my heart is fully broken!"

As a professional newspaper reporter for 20-plus years primarily covering the cops and courts beat, I had become defiant and passionate about the fine line between life and death, which explains why I am such a fighter and a bulldog when it comes to journalism, especially online over the past nine years. I don't have anyone stopping me from digging deeper into stories I feel are worth far more time and resources (that a series of editors in a newsroom, some of whom never had any real experience away from a desk, would understand.

Tolley got the worst phone call any parent could absorb in self horror: His 42-year-old firefighter son, William Tolley, is dead, having fallen to his death onto the concrete from the roof of a 5-story apartment building in Queens when he tried stepping onto the aerial bucket at 2:20 p.m. Thursday, which was apparently moving back and forth.

William Tolley, this same 14-year firefighter also was part of the fire fighting crew that was called to duty as darkness set in on 9/11. Their work was "the pile." I don'r think I need to explain what that work detail was. I will do my due diligence all night, -- all weekend -- whatever it takes, to tell the story of The Tolleys -- father and son. 

Because as the Geico commercial says, "It's what you do." Asthma or no asthma. which has calmed down. As most of my regular readers and social media followers know all too well, it can't be any worse than spending a month in the ICU with pneumonia before undergoing life-saving surgery for a massive ascending aorta aneurysm from which I have finally recovered, though I still feel slight pain in my chest from the invasive surgery. 

Nothing can be worse, though, than losing a son or a daughter, regardless of their age. In this case, Tolley's son, William, or Bill as he called him, was 42. Tolley is not quite 70. Regardless, the tears flow, the voice cracks and the breathing becomes heavy. This was not something Tolley expected, even though he said readily he understood the dangers of the career path chosen by his son.

Still, who can ever really fathom receiving a phone call out of the blue that their son has fallen five stories from the roof of an apartment building to this death on the concrete below. 

Nothing can be worse, though, than losing a son or a daughter, regardless of their age. In this case, Tolley's son, William, or Bill as he called him, was 42. Tolley is not quite 70. Regardless, the tears flow, the voice cracks and the breathing becomes heavy. This was not something Tolley expected, even though he said readily he understood the dangers of the career path chosen by his son.

Still, who can ever really fathom receiving a phone call out of the blue that their son has fallen five stories from the roof of an apartment building to this death on the concrete below. After all, Tolley has given much to his community and provided me with seemingly limitless amounts of multimedia stories -- breaking and investigative -- that have led to quite a few award-winning stories on municipal governance in the beach-front community he has called home for 20 years.

The least I can do is try and do my best to tell the story of two good men:" Family man Bob Tolley and his firefighting-son, William Tolley, also a family man. The difference here, though, is the father is here and the son is no more among the living, a truly harsh and cold reality.

Previous Coverage: Multimedia

Headline Surfer video / New Smyrna Beach resident reflects on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in this video interview outside his New Smyrna Beach home, including how proud he was of his New York City firefighter son, William Tolley, who was called to the Twin Towers that night for "pile duty." The photo of the son is from 2001 when he was 27. William Tolley, was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, April 20, 2017, when he fell of the roof of a five-story building while fighting a fire. He was 42, leaving behind his wife and 8-year-old daughter.
 
September 11, 2012
 
September 10, 2011
 
Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet in Daytona Beach, Florida, via HeadlineSurfer.com. Specializing in breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most experienced reporters with dozens of journalism-industry awards. Frederick is enrolled online at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL where he's pursuing an MA in New Media/Journalism (degree in March 2018). Frederick earned his BA in Political Science/Public Admin. (concentration in Writing) from Central Connecticut State University, 1984, where he recieved the President's Citation for "academic excellence & outstanding campus/community service." Prior to myriad duties as publisher/award-winning journalist of Headline Surfer, 2008-present; Frederick was city hall reporter for the Palatka Daily News, 2007-'08; city editor of the Taunton (MA) Daily Gazette, 2005-2006; cops & courts/legal affairs writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, 1996-'04; and cops & courts for the Rockland (NY) Journal-News/Gannett Suburban Newspapers, 1989-'96.