Toronto bride wed by trailblazing NYC Fire Dept. chaplain amid fatal crane collapse
City's 1st female and openly gay chaplain escorts stranded bride to her groom, weds them on steps of city hall
When bride-to-be Nesh Pillay found herself stranded on a New York City street amid the chaos of a fatal crane collapse, a trailblazing chaplain from the local fire department came to her rescue.
Nesh Pillay, 25, a Toronto native, was at a Manhattan hair salon on Friday with her mother and sister getting ready for her wedding when they felt the earth shake as a construction crane collapsed outside, killing one person and injuring three others.
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"No one really knew what was going on. We sort of assumed it was something minor, maybe a construction mishap. But within a few minutes everyone outside knew what had happened with the crane because it was right outside the door," Pillay told CBC News.
She was late for her wedding, but police wouldn't let anyone in or out of the salon. After a little while, authorities told the trio they had to leave due to a possible gas leak.
"So I kind of went into the bathroom and put my wedding dress on and left, knowing at this point I was very late," Pillay said.
Pillay was standing outside in her wedding gown in the slushy cold weather in the middle of the crane collapse scene, when Rev. Ann Kansfield of the New York City Fire Department swooped in, covered the bride in a protective firefighter jacket and escorted her to city hall where groom Aaron Vanderhoff was waiting.
"She held my arms and she held my dress up and said the most wonderful kind words and reassured me. She said things like, 'All brides are late, only you have an excuse,' and, 'Don't worry, we'll get you there,''" Pillay said.
'She told me that she would marry us'
At this point, Pillay was unsure she should go ahead with the wedding amid such tragedy. What's more, they'd only booked a photographer for a limited time and the clock was running out.
"The elation that a lot of people probably feel on their wedding day, I didn't feel any of that. It was more anxiety, not because I was nervous to be getting married, but because someone died, and I felt bad, you know? You feel bad to feel really happy in someone else's pain," she said.
"But the chaplain just made me feel OK with being happy to get married. She told me that she would marry us."
This isn't Kansfield's first time in the media spotlight. She made headlines in 2015 when she became the department's first female and first openly gay chaplain.
Fire department chaplains are there to provide counselling to firefighters and department personnel, perform blessings and invocations and assist with notifying families when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty.
On the journey to city hall, Kansfield told Pillay about her trailblazing history with the department.
"Right then I was like, 'This woman needs to marry us,'" Pillay said. "I think she represents a lot of what Aaron and I stand for in our daily lives. I don't use the word fate very often, I really don't, but it almost felt as if it had been pre-written somewhere."
'Just happy she was there'
Vanderhoff, meanwhile, was a bit astounded to see his bride arrive, an hour late, on the arm of a firefighter and clad in a protective jacket.
"It's not the picturesque wedding scene that you would like," he said. "There's construction and noise going on across the street, and she was crossing in between two cars and I saw her in her white dress with the FDNY [Fire Department, New York] coat on. You know, you can't make it up.
"But I was just happy she was there."
Pillay was happy to see her husband-to-be, too.
"The second I saw him, I just burst into tears, and felt a lot better after that," she said.
With little time to spare, the pair were wed on the spot, surrounded by family and friends.
"From the moment that I walked up the steps to the moment that we were married was maybe five minutes," Pillay said.