New York Firefighter Lieutenant David J Fontana was one of 343 firefighters that died while helping to rescue about 28,000 people from the World Trade Center following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Dave was 37. He left behind his widow, Marian, and his son, Aidan.
Dave belonged to Squad Company 1, a fire station house at 788 Union Street in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn whose firefighters are specially trained to tackle the most difficult and dangerous of fires and other emergencies. Twelve of the 27 men of Squad 1 were killed on September 11. Only 15 men in the squad survived.
Dave died on his eighth wedding anniversary. Such was his love for the fire department that, in 1993, Dave insisted that he and Marian be wed on September 11. This way their anniversary would be “nine one one” – the phone number for contacting the fire department or other emergency service.
As a teenager and young adult, Dave worked summers as a lifeguard at Jones Beach on Long Island. In the late 1990s a cousin asked Dave what made him decide to enter the New York Fire Department, as no other family member had done so before. His reply was, “I like saving people.”
Dave was a “renaissance man”, having trained as an artist at university. Sculpture was his passion and his works of art – in carved wood or melded steel – were big and bold.
The sixth of seven Fontana children, Dave had a keen interest in history and spent many hours off duty researching the lives of members of the Fire Department of New York that were killed in action in World War I or World War II. He organised the creation and unveiling of several plaques at fire stations to commemorate firefighters killed in combat.
Coming from a large extended family, Dave was an internationalist that loved to travel. He delighted in visiting his cousins in Ireland.
Dave’s last known location on September 11, 2001 was at or near the 45th floor of the South Tower, the first of the two 110-storey towers to fall. He and hundreds of other firefighters ran up emergency stairs, despite being loaded down with heavy rescue gear, and they helped to get thousands of fleeing office workers down the stairs and out to safety.
Dave was a doer, an optimistic person full of passion for life. We celebrate Dave’s love for his family and his friends, and the deep love and respect for his fellow human beings, regardless of their race, religion or background, that prompted him to rush into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11.