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Thousands gather to lay fallen FDNY firefighter to rest

The grief-stricken 8-year-old daughter of fallen firefighter William Tolley now has a father in every FDNY member, Bravest promised during her dad’s funeral on Thursday.

“Bella’s our little girl now, and we’re gonna take care of her,” said Jarrett Katarski, who was stationed with Tolley, as he choked back tears during a eulogy.

“You’re gonna have 40 protective and overbearing dads looking over your shoulder now,” Katarski told the young girl, who wore her late father’s dress cap and clutched a blanket with his face on it during the funeral at St. Martin of Tours in Bethpage, LI.

Mayor de Blasio, whose father died when he was 18, assured the youngster she will find comfort in her father’s sacrifice.

“Sometimes of course you’ll wish you knew him better, you’ll wish you had more time, but you’ll never have to wonder about his character, what he believed in, how he used his life on earth,” de Blasio told Bella. “You will know he’s a hero. It will sustain you. It’s a gift that will help you no matter what you live through.”

“What Bella will know for rest of her life is that her extended family at the FDNYwill be there for her,” de Blasio said.

St. Martin’s pastor Patrick Woods recounted the tender moment when Tolley’s widow, Marie, broke the news to her young daughter.

“Bella, as wise as any ancient philosopher, says, ‘Mommy, daddy is too young to die,’” the pastor said. “In the numbness of her pain this is what Marie told Bella: ‘You know your daddy loved to help people — that’s what firemen do, they help people — and your daddy was a really good man at helping people.’”

“I can’t think of a more difficult conversation a parent could have with a child.”

Tolley took Bella to church every week, and his funeral mass included one of her favorite hymns, according to Woods.

“That song — ‘Halle, halle, halle’ — is one of Bella’s favorites from the 10 o’clock mass, so we played it in her honor,” he said.

Tolley, 42, plummeted five stories while trying to perform a “routine operation” while responding to a fire at a Queens residential building on April 20. He died of his injuries at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center a short time later, according to the medical examiner.

Sources said Tolley was trying to get his ladder bucket unstuck from a rooftop lip on the building at 1615 Putnam Avenue.

One of the last things Tolley did on that fateful day was go to a bakery near his firehouse to inquire about cupcakes for Bella’s First Communion.

More than 10,000 lined up outside the Bethpage, LI, church, according to Nassau County cops.

The teeming half-mile stretch of Central Avenue leading to the house of worship fell dead silent — save the the mournful whine of bagpipes and the rumble of fire trucks — as the funeral procession pulled up at about 11:30 a.m.

Tolley’s own Ladder 135 truck was draped in black and purple bunting as it carried his casket. The Emerald Society FDNY Pipes and Drums beat a somber march as the truck arrived.

“Billy loved everything about firefighting, whether it be fdny firefighting or his volunteer firefighting,” Katarski said. “I know he’s up there smiling down on all the rigs and pageantry, so good for him.”

Officials from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced Monday that the mortgage on the family’s Bethpage, LI, home will be paid off with an undisclosed amount of money the charity has raised.
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