by MICHAEL WARNER
President Bush was so moved by the death in Iraq of hero New York firefighter Chris Engeldrum, he took the time to make a personal phone call to his grieving widow.
Engeldrum a veteran of the first Gulf War who later risked his life to rescue fellow New Yorkers on 9/11 was the first city firefighter to die in the war.
"The president was very kind and called to offer his condolences," Engeldrum's father, Philip, said of the Saturday call.
"I think the man has some genuine empathy, and I'm glad he's the president. He is concerned for the people who are over there [in Iraq] and for their families at home," he said.
"Chris was an older person he didn't have to go . . . He [Bush] felt enough about it to call."
He said his daughter-in-law Sharon, 37, who is pregnant, chatted with the president for about five minutes, discussing the well-being of her two teenage sons and the progress of the war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,200 American troops.
The White House confirmed the call, but would not comment further.
Engeldrum, 39, was killed by a roadside bomb that ripped apart his Humvee as it traveled in a convoy near Baghdad. Thousands of grief-stricken FDNY colleagues and friends are expected to join the Engeldrum family in an outpouring of grief at a funeral Mass at St. Benedict's Church in The Bronx at 11 a.m. on Thursday. His body was returned to The Bronx yesterday.
Among the mourners will be the fireman's best friend and fellow National Guardsman, Mike Brown, who was traveling in the Humvee behind when the bomb went off.
Brown's wife, Rose, said her husband who will be godfather of the hero's third child was on his way back from the war zone yesterday after being granted permission by the military to attend the service.
Eulogies will be delivered by Engeldrum's oldest son, Sean, 18, and a buddy from his beloved Bronx firehouse. He'll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.
Engeldrum known to his friends as "Drum" also leaves behind a younger son, Royce, who turned 16 on the day of his dad's death; his parents, Philip and Lenora; and sisters, Leann and Kim.
Engeldrum who had also served for two years in the NYPD was revered by his pals at Ladder Co. 61 in The Bronx for his "can do" attitude.
In July 2000, he was cited for bravery for saving two people from a house fire, and on 9/11, he again put his life on the line at the burning World Trade Center. He'd arrived with his unit just as the first of the towers was falling.
He spent endless days digging through the smoldering debris.
"He loved his country, and he loved being a fireman," one teary friend recalled.