Former Orange County Fire Chief Buried with FDNY Honors

Times Herald Record - February 02, 2018

by Richard J. Bayne

WASHINGTONVILLE - Two long rows of firefighters snapped to attention as Raymond Phillips’ flag-draped casket arrived Thursday at St. Mary’s Church.

Phillips, a retired New York City Fire Department firefighter and 9/11 responder and a past chief of the South Blooming Grove Fire Department, was laid to rest with full FDNY honors.

As his old FDNY buddy, retired Battalion Chief John Salka Jr. put it, Phillips was involved in everything. Whether it was heading to the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting, putting on a Santa suit, or rushing to an accident on Route 208, Phillips was there.

Fellow firefighters spoke of how Phillips was called to the World Trade Center on 9/11 from his Rescue 3 Company in the Bronx. He worked in the rubble of the Twin Towers for days searching for bodies.

Like so many others who worked on the pile, Phillips developed health problems after 9/11, fellow retired firefighters said.

He retired in 2003. He died Saturday at 64.

“We worked so hard to hold onto him,” Salka said. “Unfortunately, God had a different plan.”

About 700 people filled the pews and 100 more behind them as Phillips’ oldest son, Raymond, saluted his dad as “the true definition of a dedicated firefighter.” His dad’s winning personality would take over a room, Phillips said. “Everybody knew him. The stories will live on forever.”

Phillips was a big guy. He stood 6 feet 2 inches tall. The pastor at St. Mary’s, the Rev. Jeffrey Maurer, told how Phillips got his nickname, “Gonzo,” because of his size. The nickname came from Godzilla, the enormous, destructive sea monster. But, Maurer said, Phillips was the opposite of Godzilla. “He didn’t leave a path of destruction. He set a path for others to walk down.”

Saluting Phillips’ career in firefighting, Maurer quoted from the Book of John, 15:13: “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for others.”

After the funeral Mass, firefighters again snapped to attention as Phillips’ casket was loaded onto an FDNY fire truck for the procession to St. Mary’s Cemetery. Orange County firefighters sounded a “last call” and a bugler played taps.

On the church steps, Robert Sapienza of Campbell Hall, a retired firefighter who worked with Phillips at Rescue 3, said that many firefighters who went out with Phillips on 9/11 were lost that day. “It all depended on where you were assigned when the towers fell,” said Sapienza.

Like many firefighters who came to salute Phillips Thursday, Sapienza wore a pin displaying the number 343, signifying the firefighters who were lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We never talk about it (9/11). He (Phillips) never talked about it. But all of us with gray hair here will always remember that day,” Sapienza said.