The brother of William Tolley, who died earlier this year battling a blaze in Queens, is channeling his pain into a plan to help others. NY1's Gene Apodaca sat down with him to talk about his new foundation in his brother's name.
The relationship Robert Tolley said he had with his younger brother William was beyond close:
"Billy and I weren't just brothers; we were best friends," Robert said.
The two siblings grew up sharing a love of service — for Robert, the military; his younger brother, the city fire department.
Tragically, that close bond ended in April, when William, a 14-year veteran of the FDNY, fell from a ladder to his death while battling a blaze in Ridgewood.
"One of the things that I struggled with a lot in those early days after he was killed was that I wasn't there when he died," said the firefighter's brother.
Although a painful memory, Tolley is now working to make something positive out of that tragedy.
In October, he started the William Tolley Fire and Drums Foundation, a charity to help families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
The foundation is named after Tolley's love of fighting fires and his drumming, showcased in a video performing with his band "Internal Bleeding."
"His two passions were the fire house and his drumming," Robert Tolley said
Tolley said he was inspired to help others after seeing the support his family received following his brother's death.
That included a donation to William's widow from the Tunnel to Towers Foundation that went towards paying off the mortgage.
"Just to see how strangers were so willing to devote their time to support people they never even met before," said Tolley.
Although new, the charity has received donations from William's colleagues at Engine 286 and NYPD's 104th Precinct.
The Glendale Kiwanis Club has also made a sizeable donation.
"Anytime a family loses a parent, where kids are involved and stuff like that, it can be very difficult," said Bob Kueber, a member of the Glendale Kiwanis Club.
The foundation won't just help family members within the FDNY; it is open to all first responders, including volunteer firefighters and those who have served in the military.
Tolley says he hopes the foundation not only helps carry on his younger brother's legacy; he also hopes it gives grieving families, like his, a sense of hope.
"It reinforces their understanding that people want to help them, that they're not alone in the fight," said Tolley.
If you would like to learn more about the charity, you can find it on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org