Firefighter Killed Was the 'Ultimate

NY Sun - December 10, 2004

by MAURA YATES - Special to the Sun

Christian Engeldrum loved being a part of the action. The New York City firefighter's desire to be on the front line took him from Operation Desert Storm to the rubble at ground zero to the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, where he was killed during an attack on his Humvee on November 29.

Engeldrum's funeral was held yesterday at St. Benedict's Church in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, where he grew up. Outside the church, thousands of firefighters in formation covered several city blocks, joined by military personnel and neighbors waving small American flags handed out by veterans. The mournful skirl of the Emerald Society pipers filled the air as the coffin was lowered from the ceremonial fire truck.

"We all come together with a number of questions," the homilist, Monsignor Edmund Whalen, said during the Mass. "How can this be? What does the future hold? And that little but very big question, 'Why?' Why Christian, why anyone, why all the violence in the world?"

Among the many highlights of Engeldrum's life remembered fondly during the Mass were tales of his family's neighborhood gas station, where Engeldrum would stop and chat with neighbors while filling their tanks and helping them get their cars running again. It was at that gas station that Engeldrum met his future wife, Sharon. She is now pregnant with the couple's third child. Their two sons, Sean and Royce, are 18 and 16.

Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki, Senator Clinton, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, and Mayor Giuliani sat in the front row and walked across the aisle to greet the family during the Mass.

Mr. Bloomberg said that Engeldrum embodied the motto inscribed on the firefighter memorial in Riverside Park, which reads, "New York's Bravest are soldiers in a war that never ends."

As a police officer, a firefighter, and a soldier, "Christian Engeldrum fought that war on so many different fronts," Mr. Bloomberg said.

After digging through the rubble at ground zero in search of his fallen brothers after September 11, 2001, Engeldrum re-enlisted with the National Guard and "when duty called he traveled 6,000 miles away to fight for our freedom," Mr. Bloomberg said. "He was the ultimate patriot."

The mayor said that although he didn't know Engeldrum personally, he knew him by reputation as a "guy you wanted by your side when the chips were down."

Mr. Bloomberg announced that Engeldrum will be considered by the Fire Department to have died in the line of duty, providing death benefits and health insurance for the rest of Mrs. Engeldrum's life. "This city you served so well will never forget you," the mayor told the firefighter's family.

During the service, the city firefighter who was injured during the attack that killed Engeldrum, Daniel Swift, 24, received a standing ovation for his heroism. Determined not to miss the funeral, Mr. Swift came with shrapnel in his legs and a bandaged eye; he walked with a crutch.

At the church was a group of soldiers from Fort Dix who are preparing for deployment to Iraq in the next three weeks. One of them, Stephen Finkel, is a city firefighter who said he understood why Engeldrum was so eager to reenlist. "All I had to do was see the 19 plaques on the firehouse wall from 9/11," he said of his comrades who were killed at the World Trade Center.

Around the corner from the church is the firehouse where Engeldrum was first stationed after he graduated from the fire academy. There, firefighters gathered to remember their fallen brother. "He was a great, stand-up guy," Firefighter Richard Jahoda said. "After September 11th, he just wanted to go fight for his country."

"He was the first guy to say, 'What do you need?'" said Firefighter Brian Williams. "He was really well loved and will be missed." Mr. Williams said Engeldrum was deeply attached to his community and had taken it upon himself to make thank-you placards for all the neighborhood merchants who donated food and goods to the firehouse after September 11. He hand-delivered them, and they are still hanging in local businesses today, Mr. Williams said.

"He had a lot of character in him," Firefighter Peter DeLorme said. Mr. DeLorme remembered Engeldrum for his love of motorcycles, something his wife didn't share. After September 11, 2001, he finally convinced her to let him buy a special edition bike made for firefighters. He broke his arm soon after and had to sit on the back and let his uncle drive him up and down East Tremont Avenue.

"He liked to ride the wind," Mr. De-Lorme said. "He wouldn't give up a ride no matter what."

He will be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.