Tribute To A Fallen Firefighter

SI Advance - November 18, 2009

by Kiawana Rich

The setting sun and the circling white doves lent the new five-story building on the hilltop in Stapleton a quiet majesty. But very soon the noises of childhood, happy and hopeful, will inhabit Stephen's House, where abused or neglected children will be loved and cosseted, even as the building's namesake lay down his life to protect those trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Firefighter Stephen Siller dearly loved children, and there could be no better tribute then the $14.5 million building at 119 Tompkins Ave. that was dedicated yesterday in his honor.

The 150 guests marveled at the terra-cotta triumph. The oversize, variously shaped windows and the big red doors -- did someone say firehouse? -- afford views of Tompkins Avenue and environs.

"What does a firehouse do? It saves lives, it gives hope to people in times of emergency," said Borough President James Molinaro, honorary chair of the project's capital campaign. "This house does the same thing for the many boys and girls that have no hope. It will give them hope, it gives them direction so they know they are loved."

The complex is the shared vision of New York Foundling and the Stephen Siller, FDNY, "Let Us Do Good" Children's Foundation, run by the late Siller's brothers and sisters, who reared the youngster after his parents died when he was just 10. A West Brighton resident, Siller died after racing through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in his turnout gear to get to Ground Zero.

Stephen's House will house New York Foundling's diagnostic center, providing safe, temporary housing for 24 boys and girls ages 11-15; children can stay for up to 90 days.

The brightly lit refuge includes 24 bedrooms, and rooms for meditation, exercise, recreational space and visitors. The complex also will house all of New York Foundling's other services: The agency serves 600 children and families annually.

"This is a miracle for sure. Eight years ago, the World Trade Center was reduced to rubble, and eight years later, out of the ashes, rises this beautiful building," said Siller's brother Russell. Foundling Executive Director Bill Baccaglini said it's expected the center will open after Thanksgiving week. He and the Siller family thanked the numerous benefactors for their support.

"The Siller family made something good out of something so horrible," said Baccaglini. "We have been most proud of our association with them."

Three trees were planted on the site to honor the memories of supporters Assemblyman John Lavelle and Assemblywoman Elizabeth Connelly, and Molinaro's son, Stephen.

As he cut the ribbon, the borough president was framed by Siller's two sons, Stephen, 9, and Jake, 10, and other Siller family members, friends and supporters.

Then the released doves rose into the darkling sky.