Public Service Was His Heart's Calling

March 1, 2002

Marie Losito fretfully watched her son answer his calling in life.

She "had concerns" in 1989 when she accompanied him to 1 Police Plaza, where he took a test to join the New York Police Department. "He was only 16 then," she said. "To be that young and to want to help people the way he did, he must have had a real understanding of what he wanted to do."

So her son, Andrew Christopher Brunn, chose to become a police officer, and later a firefighter, because "he thought he could do more good helping people," his mother said.

His dedication cost him his life: Brunn, 28, was one of 343 firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

There was evidence of her son's dedication to public service even before that 1989 trek to the city.

Brunn adopted Flipper, the family's 14-year-old, black-and-white cat, when he found him as a kitten in a schoolyard, in 1988, his mother said. "He loved animals and he loved people," she said, trying to recount the countless hamsters, fish and birds that her son befriended over the years. She remembered school nights when Brunn was a child, sending him and his younger sister Christina to bed at 8:30 p.m., watching another of Brunn's cats, Tiger, straggle behind her son into his bedroom in the family's Levittown home.

Their mother-son trips to Long Beach with a long board tied to the top of their car are still fresh memories for Losito. "He was a surfer," she said. Ever since he was 9, he liked "anything to do with the ocean." Losito said her son found peace whenever he was paddling away from shore. "He felt a freedom in the water that he never felt on land," she said. "And he always had great balance in everything he did. But I was always anxious."

After he graduated from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville in 1991, Brunn joined the New York Air National Guard. A staff sergeant in the 213th engineering and installation squadron, he was sent overseas to Germany, Italy and Iraq, his mother said.

At 21, Brunn got the call he had been waiting for since his trip to 1 Police Plaza six years earlier. He walked the beat in Harlem before being promoted to sergeant and spending seven years with the NYPD.

Last summer, Brunn received an offer to join the city's fire department, and he jumped at the chance. Stationed at Ladder 5 in downtown Manhattan, Brunn was sent back to a time when he and his family would take weekly "excursions" to Manhattan, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, or walking through Greenwich Village, his mother said.

"He loved New York City," she said. "And he loved the firehouse."

Brunn and 10 members of his company perished in the terrorist attacks. His body was recovered on the Friday after, along with his commanding officer and a "woman they were trying to help down the stairs," Losito said.

He and his wife, Sigalit, were set to close on their first home, in Hicksville, two weeks after the terrorist attacks. Boxes filled with books and clothes still clutter the couple's Flushing apartment. "In his heart, I think he knew he belonged in Long Island," Losito said. "I think he was coming back home, but he never made it."

There is a tree in front of Brunn's alma mater with the names inscribed on metal leaves of deceased alumni. Nine more leaves, representing deaths in the terrorist attacks, have been added since September.

Losito presented a plaque at her son's funeral at the Thomas Dalton Funeral Home in New Hyde Park on Sept. 17. The inscribed biblical passage read: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend."

In addition to his wife and mother, Brunn is survived by his father, Andrew Brunn, and his sister, Christina Brunn, both of Glen Oaks.

"He's my guardian angel," Losito said. "And he'll watch over me now."

-- Nick Iyer (Newsday)