A Hero’s Sendoff


 Firefighter Timothy Klein tragically died doing what he loved. But if his heavily attended funeral on Friday, April 29 showed anything, it was that Timmy Klein poured his heart into everything he did, and he himself, was truly loved. By his parents, his three sisters, his soulmate, his aunts and uncles, his many cousins, his fellow firefighters and his many, many friends from all different parts of his short life.

Belle Harbor came to a standstill on Friday as mourners from around the corner to around the city, came to one place to celebrate the life of the 31-year-old firefighter. Even through the deepest grief, the words of his friend and fellow Ladder 170 firefighter Vincent Geary and his mother, Diane “Dee Dee” Klein, truly gave life to the man that Timmy Klein was. 

After a procession of fire and police vehicles and bagpipers led the way, a Ladder 170 firetruck carrying the American flag-draped casket of Timmy Klein, made its way past a sea of firefighters and police officers in their dress blues, elected officials, community leaders, family, friends and more, to St. Francis de Sales Church for the funeral Mass.

Father Bill Sweeney asked the question on everyone’s mind—“Why?” As with any tragic, sudden loss, that question may never have a satisfying answer, but there was no doubt one thing was clear—in his short time, Timmy made an impact. “He made a difference in the world. The amazing thing about Timmy is that he accomplished so much. Today we celebrate a good man’s life,” Father Bill said before the packed church. Those who eulogized him summed up well, all that Klein accomplished in his short life.

Ahead of the readings, Mayor Eric Adams addressed the crowd. “We will never forget Tim’s bravery. We will never forget his sacrifice,” he said. He spoke of being at the wake at McManus funeral home the previous day and acknowledged some of the things he noticed in Timmy’s casket, that gave him a better idea of who he was—"a Yankees cap, sunglasses, a can with his favorite beverage. He was more than a firefighter. He was more than a hero,” Mayor Adams said. “He was representative of an American family.” Mayor Adams got a short glimpse into Timmy’s life over the course of two days. Those who knew him for years, or a lifetime, took a deeper dive.

Firefighter Vincent Geary, a fellow member of “Canarsie’s Bravest,” was tasked with representing the firehouse to eulogize not only his co-worker, but his good friend. Geary says it was “Kleino” himself that he drew inspiration from while writing his eulogy, having watched videos from three years prior when Klein was tasked with eulogizing Ladder 170 Firefighter Steven Pollard. Geary started out speaking of Timmy as a constant source of inspiration.  “He was our mentor, the junior guys’ senior man, a leader, an example setter, a role model to everyone in the firehouse,” Geary said. “He always knew the right thing to do.”

Through Geary’s emotional and at points, humorous words, the church learned who Timmy was in the firehouse. “He was physically fit, smart, a great communicator, dedicated, a team player, problem solver, patient. Respected by his peers, bosses and everyone that knew him. Nobody had to worry about Tim,’ Geary said. He was described as the man who always showed up with a big smile on his face, way ahead of his shift, with coffee and bagels for his crew each day. And when he left each shift, he continued his good work, volunteering on ramp builds with The Fight for Firefighters Foundation or driving retired firefighters to hospitals with the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation, and raising money for each charity in between.

Klein’s model behavior made him a difficult target for firehouse pranks. So much so that he earned the nickname—“The golden child.” But Klein wasn’t always so innocent. “He was the ultimate prankster hiding in plain sight,” Geary said. He spoke of the times Klein would sneak a bouillon cube into a co-worker’s coffee, turning it into caffeinated gravy. And the time Klein asked his friends to bring cans for a Thanksgiving food drive at The Wharf as their cover charge, only for them to find some very confused bouncers. “There was no food drive,” Geary said.

For Geary, besides planning memorable pranks, Klein left a lasting impact in personal ways. “A few years ago, Tim wanted to get extra tickets to the FDNY/NYPD hockey game for a friend’s birthday. The friend he introduced me to is my wife today,” Geary said. “I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.

“Tim was everything you wanted in a son, brother, partner, firefighter, a friend,” Geary said. “I will miss your infectious smile and contagious laugh. I will miss sitting across from you in the truck and asking for quick advice. I will miss sharing nights out, hanging out in the kitchen, playing sports, pranking each other, traveling across country together. I know you and Steve are together again. Canarsie will never be the same without you, TK, but we will continue to get back on the trucks and do what you loved, knowing you are always with us. We will never forget you. We all love you, Kleino.”

With inner strength that could’ve only been empowered with Timmy standing by her side in spirit, his mom, Dee Dee Klein spoke of her boy. She let the crowd in on a little-known fact, one that Timmy himself didn’t speak of often. “Tim was special. At nine months old he was diagnosed with a rare form of anemia,” she said. At age two, he had his spleen removed. He was filled with the blood of firefighters, not only from his own family, but from those who donated to him at blood drives. Klein’s health issues made him smaller than his peers, but Dee Dee credited this as perhaps the reason why he always strived to rise above.

She spoke of all the sports he played, despite maybe not being the best player. “We don’t think he was great at any one thing, but he was darn good at everything,” she said. She then spoke of how his college antics including “studying”—at a pub called Murphy’s Study Hall.

She shared happy memories from Timmy’s sisters. How Tara, just 10 months younger, always followed in his footsteps, from elementary to Molloy High School and even to York College. How Timmy brought his firehouse brothers to Bridget’s job at St. Mary’s Children’s hospital and left the kids with a memorable dance off.  How Erin, the youngest, knew just how to press Timmy’s buttons and how he returned the favor. And she spoke of her and her husband’s relationship with him. How Patrick, a former Bravest, and Tim would always talk sports and more frequently, about the job. “Tim never had to look to find his perfect role model and hero,” Dee Dee said. “Patrick was so proud to be Tim’s dad.” She spoke of her own relationship with her son. “As his mom and our only son, Tim was my boy. We just had a special bond, and we spent a lot of hospital days and night together,” she said. By the time Tim was two, he was on a first name basis with her, calling her Dee Dee.

She spoke of the well-behaved toddler that would later cause occasional frustration as a 20-something year old. “Doors would lock at 4 a.m. at the Klein house and Tim was always on the outside trying to get in,” she said. She spoke of the son who adored his girlfriend, Courtney. “You made him the happiest he has ever been,” Dee Dee said. “He was without a doubt a better person for having you by his side and he loved you more than we could put into words.” She spoke of the son that often dropped off a Moretti’s roll on Nana’s porch when he finished a shift. She spoke of how he was adored by his aunts and uncles, and his many, many friends that he seemed to make everywhere he went—from his Rockaway gang that would acquire beers from the Klein’s garage to his York College buddies to his brothers of the FDNY, who shared many of their own stories of Timmy with the Klein family over the week. Dee Dee also took time to thank the community for the recent outpouring of support for the family. “Thank you to the SFDS parish and to the amazing Rockaway Beach community, our family can see our loss has been felt throughout the entire peninsula. We will always be grateful,” she said.

Before Timmy Klein was taken to his final resting place at St. Charles Cemetery, Dee Dee Klein ended with a few words, saying “We will be broken forever, but we know Tim would want us to continue to pay it forward just as he always managed to do,” and she announced that the service would end with a song that represented how Tim chose to live his life—“Free and Easy.”

Firefighter Timothy Klein will never be forgotten.

 By Katie McFadden

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