HOLBROOK, N.Y. (AP) -- Dina Fowler saluted her fallen firefighter father at his funeral Tuesday, sobbing, "I hope to grow up to be like you."

Vincent Fowler, 47, died June 4, one day after battling a house fire in Ozone Park, Queens. He was the first city firefighter to die in the line of duty this year.


Nearly 8,500 firefighters stood at attention outside the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Holbrook, Long Island. During an emotional two-hour tribute, he was remembered by family, friends, and co-workers as a man who always put others before himself.

During the fire that claimed his life, Fowler saw that part of the house was collapsing. He saved other firefighters -- including a rookie -- by getting them out of the burning house when the floor collapsed, trapping him, said Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.

Fowler, who was assigned to Ladder Co. 173 in Howard Beach, had three commendations for bravery. He was married and the father of three.

His daughters -- Dina, 21, Amy, 18 and Stephanie, 15 -- spoke during the funeral Mass at the church, where their parents were active in parish life.

Dina Fowler, her voice trembling with pride and pain, told the mourners, "Not only was he my father, he was my teacher, my coach, my protector, and most of all, he was my best friend."

"My father and I had a very, very tight bond and I kept no secrets from him," she said, adding, "I hope to grow up to be like you."

Amy evoked her father's sense of humor, recalling that "he always called me his favorite middle daughter." She also voiced the sentiment heard among many of the mourners, saying "he always put everybody before himself."

Outside the suburban church, firefighters -- some from as far away as Chicago, Maine, and Florida -- lined the streets for a final salute.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called the fallen firefighter a hero, recalling how Fowler's lungs were burned in 1990 while trying to save another firefighter.

The mayor added: "This didn't happen by accident. This was the way he lived his life. He put the safety of others above his own."

Fowler came from a family of firefighters. He was the son of retired Battalion Chief Vincent Fowler and had two brothers who also are firefighters.

In addition to his daughters, Fowler is survived by his wife, Ramona, three brothers and two sisters.
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Firefighters carry the casket of New York City Fire Captain Vincent Fowler into Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church in Holbrook, N.Y., Tuesday, June 8, 1999. Fowler was killed June 3, 1999, fighting a fire in the Queens borough of New York.