QUEENS — An off-duty fire marshal was killed in single-car crash less than a block from his Hollis Hills home on Christmas Eve, officials said.
Martin McHale, 50 — a father of young twin boys who won a medal from the city in 2007 for cracking an arson case — lost control of his gray Chevy Silverado about 6:40 p.m. at 85th Avenue and 218th Street, just down the street from his home, careening into a tree, police and neighbors said.
McHale was rushed to North Shore University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
"He was a standup guy," another fire marshal said outside of McHale's home Tuesday morning.
The man, who did not give his name, said he'd taken the FDNY's fire marshal training course with McHale, who also played football for the FDNY's team.
Roza Gavrilov, 53, who lives next door to McHale and his family, described him as a handsome "guardian angel" who chased and caught two men who burglarized her home in the summer of 2010, as they tried to make off with bags of stolen goods.
"He would say, 'Not in my neighborhood are people going to do that,'" said Gavrilov, who added that she felt safe knowing McHale lived nearby. "He wanted to help everybody. Very giving. Very open heart. I'm going to miss him."
In 2007, McHale won the city's Martin Scott Medal for solving a 2005 arson case in Queens involving a love triangle, in which a woman hired a hit man to set fire to her paramour's new lover's home. City officials praised McHale's "teamwork and tenacity" in awarding him the medal.
On Tuesday, McHale's neighbors said they had heard the bang of the impact as McHale struck the tree the night before.
"I heard a very, very strong crash," said Anna Sargsyan, 57, who works as a caretaker in the house closest to the accident. "We lost a couple trees from Sandy. I thought maybe our roof crashed."
Sargsyan said she raced outside and saw McHale in the car, unmoving. She later saw emergency responders performing CPR on him.
An FDNY spokesman said McHale was not working at the time of the crash.
It was not clear if weather was a factor.
"He was always a nice guy," said John Franklin, 83, who lived two doors down from McHale. "It's a shame."