Long Island remembers

David J. Fontana

  • Age: 37
  • Employer: FDNY
  • Place of death: World Trade Center
  • Community: Westbury
  • County: Nassau

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About David Fontana

David John Fontana, 37, of Park Slope who grew up in Westbury, was a firefighter with Squad (Company) 1 in Brooklyn. The fire truck, heading to the World Trade Center, was stuck in traffic inside the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Fontana and his lieutenant got off and walked, with gear on their backs, to rescue those trapped in the buildings. They were last seen walking toward the south tower.

At Fontana's memorial service, a woman told his mother that whenever she walked past the firehouse, he emerged and greeted her with a big hug. "It was very touching to me that this woman felt he had made her day brighter when she passed by to go shopping," said his mother, Antonia Joan Fontana. "It struck me that he was a very affectionate person. He cared about people."

A chronicler of history, Fontana embarked on a project to find all firefighters from Ladder 122 in Park Slope who served in World War II, then tracked which unit each soldier belonged to and where each died, said his mother, Antonia Joan Fontana.

Fontana tracked down some of the veterans' relatives and invited them to attend a memorial service held at the firehouse.

"He was very much into history -- personal history and history in general," said his mother.

Fontana also left behind a wife, Marian, and a 5-year-old son, Aidan. "I don't know what would have happened, but the fire department provided counseling services and allowed us to form parents' group," she said.

"Together, we have cried a lot and laughed a lot. We've grown through it. It's a place where we go to talk. It was a very, very helpful thing. We learned how to cope." -- Chau Lam

This profile was originally published in 2001/2002

When Antonia Fontana goes for walks on Field 6 at Jones Beach State Park, she still expects her son to be there. "The other lifeguards wave at me and call my name," the Westbury resident said. "My son grew up with those guys."

Fontana's son, David, who was 37, died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, one of seven who either worked at Jones Beach or Robert Moses State Park or was a relative of someone who did.

Approximately 150 relatives, friends and dignitaries gathered Friday at the entrance to Field 4 at Jones Beach to unveil and dedicate a 5-foot-high memorial honoring the seven.

"We spent all our summers on beaches," Antonia Fontana said of her son, a New York City firefighter and retired Jones Beach lifeguard. "When he got out here, it was heaven for him."

Guests, some weeping, peered at photo collages of the victims propped up on wooden easels. "Look at these pictures," said Jones Beach lifeguard Kevin Rooney, 22, of Long Beach. "They could be anybody. They could be us."

Laughter floated through the air as families exchanged memories.

"He would love to come down to the beach with the kids," said Janet Roy of her brother, William F. Burke, 46, of Manhattan, a New York City firefighter who was an active lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park. "He'd use them [his nieces and nephews] to talk to women. He was a flirt."

Roy and family members wore dark-blue T-shirts stenciled with the words "Capt. Billy Burke" and "We will never forget." His firehouse, Engine 21 in Manhattan, made them.

Gray skies threatened the ceremony and a tent was set up to protect the guests. The speakers included State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro. She praised the men as heroes and said the memorial will serve as a reminder to the park's visitors. "No one will miss it," she said.

Twenty-one children from the Brookhaven Children's Chorus sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "God Bless America" and "I Dream a World," based on Langston Hughes' poem. "It was absolutely beautiful," said Mary Cecchetti of Whitestone, a friend of Andrew C. Brunn, 28, of Fresh Meadows, a probationary New York City firefighter whose father works at the beach in a storehouse.

The victims' families each received a framed, gray poster with the same inscription as etched on the memorial's black granite top: "In every wave, in every breeze, we remember you."

Three bagpipers from Ladder 155 in South Ozone Park, dressed in full Scottish regalia, played the Christian hymn "Amazing Grace."

One bagpiper said he had performed in hundreds of ceremonies since Sept. 11. "I have been to more than I care for," said Tom Behan, a firefighter in Ladder 155. "Sometimes I have four in a day. One Saturday I had 23."

The families of the victims praised the ceremony for the memorial, which cost $5,700 and was paid for through private donations.

Kari Mills of Brentwood said her father, Charles M. Mills, 62, a state Department of Taxation and Finance bureau director whose five children all became lifeguards, would have thought the service beautiful.

"Ever since I was growing up I was thrown into the water," she said.

"He would have loved the service," said Irene Boehm of West Hempstead, of her husband Bruce Boehm, 49, a former Nassau Beach lifeguard and broker at Cantor Fitzgerald. "He came down here all the time." -- Jennifer C. Smith

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