The West Babylon firefighter who was killed Friday night in Lindenhurst was shocked by an electrified sign that carried up to 1,000 volts, according to fire officials and a Suffolk County inspector at the scene yesterday. Volunteer firefighter Michael Greene, 43, of Babylon, who was the West Babylon Fire Department’s firefighter of the year in 2005, was removing a tarpaulin from the wooden awning above Long Island Cheeseburger restaurant at 350 Montauk Hwy. when he apparently was electrocuted about 7:45 p.m.
Chief Vincent Senzamici said Greene was the first firefighter killed in the line of duty in the department’s 61-year history.
He worked as a truck driver for Nabisco and was on the force 12 years.
“Mike Greene will be sorely missed,” Senzamici said at a news conference yesterday afternoon. “He was a dedicated member of this department who gave himself selflessly to this village.”
In a statement, the department said Greene “suffered a severe shock and was immediately rendered unconscious.” No official cause of death was released, and the Suffolk County medical examiner could not be reached yesterday.
An ordinary follow-up
Greene and several other West Babylon firefighters were at the restaurant Friday night on a follow-up detail. There was a fire at the restaurant Tuesday, and a tarp was left over a hole that firefighters had cut in the blue-shingled awning for ventilation.
The cause of the Tuesday fire remains under investigation, firefighters said yesterday.
Friday night, Greene was on a ladder to retrieve the tarp.
“He was on the upper three rungs of the ladder when he touched the sign and was shocked,” Senzamici said.
A waitress who witnessed the incident and returned to the restaurant yesterday said, “We heard a thump, and he just hit the door.”
Greene was hanging upside down in front of the restaurant’s door, said the waitress, who would not give her name.
Yesterday, two pieces of armored electrical cable were hanging in front of the door.
Robert Wass, an electrical inspector for the county, said yesterday that the restaurant’s large lighted sign was able to remain electrified without activating a circuit breaker because it was not properly grounded.
A live wire within the sign was touching the metal frame, meaning that any metal part could deliver a shock, including any armored cabling, which normally carries a connection to ground through its casing, Wass said.
A transformer inside the restaurant was sending at least 600 volts to the sign to power its high-output fluorescent bulbs, Wass said.
Yesterday, Wass said sparks flew from the sign when it was turned on during his inspection.
Police inspecting the scene took the fluorescent ballasts and receptacles from the sign.
The restaurant moved to the small plaza, which has three shops and an animal hospital, two years ago, but the structure of the sign already was in place, said a man who identified himself as the owner of Long Island Cheeseburger but would not give his name. Records filed with the New York Department of State listed the restaurant’s owner as Juan Taveras.
The man said there had been no previous fires or accidents at the restaurant.
Frank Liguori, a veterinarian who runs the animal hospital two doors down from Long Island Cheeseburger, owns the shopping plaza and rents space to the restaurant, his staff said. He did not return phone messages asking for comment.
Known for valor
Greene lived in Babylon with his wife and four children; a son, 14; and three daughters, ages 12, 10 and 4, firefighters said.
Greene was set to receive a silver medal of valor from the county in September for rescuing a 78-year-old woman from a fire on Commander Avenue in West Babylon on Dec. 19.
From January 2002 to December 2004, he was captain of the department’s heavy-rescue company, which is responsible for making roof cuts for ventilation and also searching the scene of a fire.
Yesterday morning, at the firehouse on Arnold Avenue, the scene was somber, and no firefighters would speak about the accident.
Greene’s family was not available for comment yesterday. A stream of mourners visited the white house on Livingston Street where Greene and his family have lived for about three years, according to a neighbor.
The department said firefighters and medics can attend a memorial service 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chapey Funeral Home in East Islip.