KIN'S SALUTE TO FIRE HERO

By NEIL GRAVES

June 5, 2002 --

Hero WTC firefighter Brian Bilcher was laid to rest on his second wedding anniversary yesterday, as his Bravest buddies wept and his widow silently rocked their baby boy in a stroller bearing his daddy's helmet.

The strapping 38-year- old, dubbed "Tugboat" because of his girth, also was known as "the glue that held us all together," said one of his grieving pals at Engine 33, Squad 1.

Bilcher was "a strong man and a good man" - whether he was handing out food and money to the homeless, pulling practical jokes, riding his motorcycle or playing guard on the FDNY football team - said another firefighter and childhood friend, Tommy Edwards, at Bilcher's funeral Mass at Holy Rosary Church on Staten Island.

Parish priest Steve Challman said Jesus defined a hero as "a man who lays down his life for a friend" - and that Bilcher, a 10-year department veteran, clearly was one.

"How many of the 25,000 who were safely evacuated [from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11] were saved by Brian Bilcher? . . . How many people lived because Brian was not afraid to die?" Challman asked.

Friend Larry Mann said he personally owed his life to Brian from an incident years earlier.

"I was drowning at Long Beach Island in New Jersey," Mann said. "The riptide took me out, and I'm not a swimmer.

"He came out and got me," Mann said. "A couple minutes longer, and I wouldn't be here today."

Bilcher's grieving widow, Tina, listened to eulogies for her husband two years to the day of their wedding, rocking their 9-month-old son, Grant, in his stroller.

Mayor Bloomberg told mourners that, "in the end, what we have to do is make sure we build a better world for Grant."

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta also attended the service.

Bilcher's sister, Laura Silva, choked back tears as she called him "the best brother in the whole world.

"I promise to tell your son every memory I have about you," she added.



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