Honoring Their Own
LI blocks renamed for firefighters killed Sept. 11

By Erik Holm

June 30, 2003

A rolling caravan of firefighters stopped four times at four separate intersections in Holbrook yesterday, as firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were honored on the streets they had called home.

Each ceremony to rename a block in honor of the fallen firefighters was different, but together they served as a poignant reminder of what the four men had left behind: Each had their own slice of the suburban dream, with growing families, caring neighbors and modest homes on quiet streets.

Firefighter Stanley Smagala Jr. from Engine 226 "could see his future here with his wife Dena," said his brother, Jim, also a city firefighter, yesterday. "But he never returned home to his beautiful house, to his beautiful community, to his beautiful wife."

The firefighters lived on streets with names like Twin Bark Avenue, or Singingwood Drive. Now, part of Twin Bark will be called Gerard P. Schrang Way, and a block of Singingwood will be known as John Crisci Drive.

None of the firefighters lived more than a couple of miles from any other, and two, Smagala and Crisci, had homes that were only a few blocks apart. Earlier this month, the Town of Islip had the white signs, with American flags on each one, attached above the street signs that were already there, and yesterday was their formal unveiling.

"It's very apropos that the sign is right here," Darlene Rall said. A neighbor had planted flowers around the base of the street sign honoring her husband, Ed Rall, and afterward Darlene Rall said that her husband had adored the home they had created together on Grundy Avenue.

The ceremonies were organized by the Holbrook Fire Department, and members of the department rode in a bus and drove the department's engines between the four homes. They were met at each house by New York City firefighters who had worked with each of the men, and together, they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to salute as a flag that had been draped over each sign was pulled away.

At Gerry Schrang's house, the first stop in the two-hour trip, Schrang's wife, Denise, said she was "honored just to be his wife" before she invited a 4-year-old neighbor named Darby Cunningham to sing "God Bless America" for the assembled audience.

At the second stop, on Crisci's block just off Patchogue-Holbrook Road, retired Capt. Stephen Bacci told the crowd that the street sign would "stay as a constant reminder of a family man who gave his life to help others."

One block south, Dena Smagala held her daughter Alexa Faith in one arm as she pulled away the flag covering the sign honoring her husband. Alexa, not yet 2 years old, had not been born when her father died at the World Trade Center.

And Darlene Rall, with her three sons standing behind her, read a letter from one of her husband's friends, who guessed that Ed Rall would have said the attention he was getting was too much.

Afterward, Denise Schrang said that, along with her adult son and daughter, she would still pursue the life that she and her husband had imagined together.

"Before 9-11, we had just bought a house upstate, and were going to live the dream," she said. "It will be lonely for a while, but when my kids start to have kids ... they can come stay with their grandmother upstate."