He put the memories of 343 brothers in stone

Retired firefighter joined by active duty FDNY to dedicate memorial

Monday, September 09, 2002


On Sept. 11, retired firefighter Steven Ruggirello spray-painted "Pray" on a piece of plywood and placed it in front of his Port Richmond home. By the end of the day, neighbors had left candles and flowers beside the simple sign. But his family suggested a more permanent memorial -- one that water wouldn't extinguish.

So he replaced the sign with 343 cobblestones -- one for each firefighter killed in the World Trade Center attack -- and purchased a metal plaque dedicated to all those lost that day. He also flew an American flag from a 20-foot-tall pole.

The memorial, which he unveiled yesterday among members of New York's Bravest, wasn't created overnight or with one set of hands.

Neighbors, including Mexican day laborers, offered to help daily. Local store owners, such as Frank Favale of Fran-Mar Collision, volunteered their services and supplies.

"This is from my heart," said Ruggirello, who was surrounded by his wife, Laura, and children, Samantha and Steven. "I wanted to lend support."

Ruggirello, who retired from Engine Co. 157 in Port Richmond two days before Sept. 11, aided his brothers in many ways. In addition to his rescue work at Ground Zero, he brought heavy machinery to the site and brought his comrades food.

"He's very dedicated," said the Rev. Everett Wabst, a fire chaplain based in Staten Island. "This is something he did for the community, with his own hands, his own time and his own money. And he asked for nothing in return."

At a brief ceremony in his front yard on Heberton and Castleton avenues, firefighters from Rescue Co. 5 inserted 11 American flags into the cobblestones to represent men lost from their company.

"We hope you don't move," Rescue 5 firefighter Joseph Esposito jokingly warned Ruggirello.

Although firefighters admit they're attending an exhaustive number of tributes this week and countless memorials are being erected in honor of Sept. 11 victims, each one is as special as the firefighters who died, they said.

"There's a lot of pain and people need these memorials to remember," said Deputy Chief James Leonard of Division 8.

"These ceremonies are just as sad today as the firefighters' funerals were a year ago," said Donald Ruland, the Staten Island trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "We are still in the center of a grieving process."

Firefighters agreed that Ruggirello's homemade memorial helps the healing.

"This memorial is proof of the bond among firefighters," said John Sollazzo, president of the Staten Island Association of Retired Firefighters. "They live together, play together and die together."