St. Benedict’s Church honors fallen firefighters

St. Benedict’s Church honors fallen firefighters
Photo courtesy of Sharon Engeldrum

It is difficult to believe a decade has passed since Staff Sergeant Fire Fighter Christian Engeldrum, a Throggs Neck native, fought bravely in the Iraq War.

Engeldrum, 39, was assigned to the Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On November 29, 2004, while his team’s Humvee was en route, a roadside improvised explosive device was detonated and tore through their transport. Engeldrum and Private First Class Wilfredo Urbina, 29, perished in the heinous attack. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on December 10, 2004.

Originally, Engeldrum served as a New York City police officer for the 47th Precinct before joining Engine 66, Ladder 61 in Co-op City.

The Gulf War veteran returned stateside after serving a stint in the Army from 1986 to 1991 and continued his selfless work as a firefighter. He then reenlisted for another tour.

During the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Engeldrum and many other firefighters descended onto the horrific scene. Following the aftermath, he was seen with other firefighters searching for survivors amid the wreckage of twisted steel and concrete and was photographed in a scene at Ground Zero in which firefighters hung a flag from a bent light pole.

“He was a great kid and he was one of the first to find the flag at Ground Zero and they later re-created that moment for a photograph,” explained Cathy Praino, Engeldrum’s aunt.

“He was always there for everybody.”

“His family used to own a gas station on East Tremont Avenue and that was how I first heard of Chris,” Eugene Lynch, Never Forget Foundation president, said.

“I worked for Engine 38, Ladder 51 and he worked for Engine 66, Ladder 61 and we worked quite often together over the years responding to different fires. He was a very down-to-earth guy who was always willing to help out anyone he could.”

“We were all totally shocked when we heard of his death,” he added. “He was the first firefighter we lost since the Second World War.”

According to Lynch, the FDNY had lost 41 members and two civilians between World War I and World War II. Their first causality was reported on September 17, 1917 and prior to Engeldrum, the last was February 9, 1945.

St. Benedict’s Church will hold a memorial Mass on Thursday, December 4 at 10:30 a.m. honoring Engeldrum and 43 other FDNY members. The service is open to the community and class ‘A’ attire is required.

“Cathy Praino is an active member of the parish and she came to me about holding this tenth anniversary Mass for Christian Engeldrum,” explained Father Stephen Norton. “I have spoken with Mr. Lynch and he has been very respectful in asking me if they may use the church to conduct the service.”

The Mass will include a bag pipe band and appearances by members of the FDNY. Lynch said that there is much more still being planned for this upcoming memorial service.

“We’re trying to get the firehouses where these 44 members worked to participate by carrying flags in their honor,” he revealed. “I hope the community comes out to this memorial Mass to support Engeldrum’s family as well as the other FDNY members that were lost in these wars.”

He is in the process of having Engeldrum’s unit, the Fighting 69th; Senator Jeffrey Klein; and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto attend the service.

“I don’t think people ever forget the sacrifice people have made in the military, police, fire or ambulatory services,” expressed Fr. Norton. “Christian is the motivation behind this Mass, however the embracing of the 44 FDNY members that served will bring the community together.”