At age 60, Dennis Cross had spent nearly two-thirds of his life as a firefighter in New York City.

And retirement wasn't on his calendar anytime soon.

"He wanted to be the first to put in 50 years on the job," said JoAnn Cross, his wife of 37 years.

Along with so many of his brethren, Cross' career was cut short Sept. 11. The battalion chief for Battalion 57, based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, was killed when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

His body wasn't recovered until a week later.

"The first three days it was more than hell," said his wife. "When they found him on the seventh day, that was such a relief because we could bring him home. So many of our friends haven't been able to do that."

As is common in the profession, fighting fires was a family affair. Cross' father, Charles, was a New York firefighter, as is his only son, Brian.

Cross joined the department in 1963 after returning home from a two-year tour in Vietnam, where he served in an Army communications unit, JoAnn Cross said.

In the department, Cross was widely admired as a gutsy firefighter and, later, as a respected leader.

"He was a quiet guy, but powerful," JoAnn Cross said. "When he made captain, they called him Captain Fearless."

He was promoted to battalion chief in 1993.

A frequent runner who kept himself in excellent shape, Cross was looking forward to competing in an annual 5K race around the Thanksgiving holiday in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Now, JoAnn Cross hopes to turn the race into a fundraiser for a local charity that aids burn victims.

Cross is also survived by three daughters and three grandchildren.

An estimated 3,000 mourners, mostly firefighters, attended Cross' funeral Sept. 22 in Islip Terrace, Long Island, where he lived.

--Mickey Ciokajlo (The Chicago Tribune)