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Astoria firefighter’s family to give scholarship awards

Alexander Santora was elated when his son Christopher told him he wanted to leave his job as a teacher and become one of New York’s bravest.

“I was delighted that he wanted to go into the Fire Department,” Santora, a retired chief himself, recalled. “We worked very diligently in getting all the credentials in place.”

But only a few years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, when 23-year-old Christopher died as a probationary firefighter at the World Trade Center, that joy turned to pain.

“That was his first big fire,” said Santora. “It turned out to be the fire of all fires.”

Now Santora and his wife Maureen are honoring their son’s memory as both a firefighter and a teacher by providing scholarships for young people at several schools and firehouses.

The Santoras will hold a benefit dinner dance to raise money for the scholarships on Friday, June 20, at Riccardo’s by the Bridge at 21-04 24th Ave. in Astoria, where the family lives. Tickets are $60.

Last year the Christopher Santora Educational Fund provided scholarships for students at the schools the young firefighter attended, IS 227 in East Elmhurst and Bayside High School, as well as the two schools at which he taught, IS 10 in Astoria and PS 2 in Jackson Heights.

This year the fund will be expanded to include the child of a firefighter from the station where Christopher worked, Engine Co. 54 and Ladder Co. 4 in Midtown Manhattan, and to a firefighter from that station who wants to continue his education.

Santora said he would like to eventually open the program up further to include the firehouse where he himself worked, Engine Co. 48, Ladder Co. 56 in the Bronx as well as the house where his son worked earlier, Engine Co. 298 and Ladder Co. 127 in Jamaica.

Winners are decided on the basis of essays written by the applicants.

“It’s about trying to get the money to the kids so they can continue their education,” Santora said.

Christopher was a history buff who had a keen mind for facts and figures, his father said. He studied history at Queens College and wanted to pursue a Ph.D. one day. He was also an avid skier and tennis player.

As a teacher, Santora said, his son was able to connect well with the students.

“He liked teaching, and was able to relate to the kids,” Santora said. “When they talked about wrestling or Pokeman, he knew all that stuff.”

Santora said he was deeply touched — and hard-pressed to maintain his impartiality — last year when he read applications for the scholarships from students who actually had Christopher as a teacher. Many of those students included their classroom memories of Christopher’s short teaching career.

Santora said that in the weeks after receiving his probationary assignment, his son was anxious get experience by going out on a major fire.

“I kept reassuring him, ‘Sooner or later you’ll get a big job,’” the 40-year veteran of the department said.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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