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33rd Road renamed for fallen firefighter

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Although every street sign marks a place and every place tells a story, such tales are hard to decipher beneath the anonymous numbers painted white on green in Queens.

But on 33rd Road, the story of one resident has been inscribed on the street post, marking the spot where a rookie firefighter lived his life before he gave it up on Sept. 11.

A new sign reading “Christopher Santora Way,” wedged between the green metal slabs marking 21st Street and 33rd Road, was unveiled Saturday during a ceremony in Astoria before a crowd of 200.

“It kind of just blew us out of the water,” said his father, Alexander Santora, recalling when he learned the street would be named for his son. “It was just a wonderful, beautiful expression of concern and love, and it really just warmed our hearts.”

Santora died days shy of his 24th birthday when he and his comrades from Engine Co. 54 in Midtown Manhattan responded to the call of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. He had lived on 33rd Road until 10 years ago, when his family moved just around the corner to another building in the Queensview co-op.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) originally broached the idea of renaming the street in Santora’s memory to former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who introduced a resolution that was approved by the Council in December.

His son and successor, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), was on hand Saturday to see the resolution to fruition.

“Christopher and his fellow firefighters ran up the building while others were leaving, expecting to find a burning hell,” Vallone said. “But instead they found heaven, and they’re now with God.”

The ceremony featured renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Proud to Be an American” by students from LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. A scout troop delivered a flag that had been flown in Santora’s honor atop the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“We’re struggling . . . to move beyond the events of Sept. 11 and to get our lives moving once again as they were before that date,” Gianaris said. “It’s important as we do that that we also take care to ensure that we never forget what took place either.”

The past eight months have been turbulent for the Santoras, who buried their son in December after learning his remains had been misidentified as those of his colleague, Firefighter Jose Antonio Guadalupe, because they shared a rare neck condition.

Buried once in St. Albans by Guadalupe’s family in October, Santora’s remains were recovered by his family and reburied December after a funeral service that attracted hundreds to St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Long Island City.

“My mother knew,” said Megan Santora, who at 16 years old is the youngest of the five Santora children. “She was praying that they would find him before the memorial, and they did, although not the way we had hoped, but they found him just the same.”

Fighting fires was in Santora’s blood, as his father was a 40-year FDNY veteran who retired as a deputy chief.

But the World Trade Center was the first major fire he saw in his few months on the job.

“He used to come home and tell my father, who’s a retired fire chief, ‘When am I going to see a huge fire? I keep seeing these garbage can fires. I want to see a big fire,’ ” Megan Santora said. “He wished hard enough that he got it — he got to see the biggest fire in history, basically.”

For Megan, seeing the street named for her brother prompts her to see her brother himself.

“I picture his face,” she said. “I picture him standing there in heaven with all of the other firefighters and everybody else who’s passed, and saying, ‘Look at me, I got a street named after me.’”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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