Families Sky-Jumping For Fallen Firefighters
“Falling with the Fallen” – Blue skies, few clouds, another calm beautiful day, perfect to enjoy a little skydiving and remembrance. For the third year in a row, Firefighter Chris ‘Rusty’ Russell hosted the ‘FF Stephen P. Russell Memorial Sky Dive’ at The Blue Sky Ranch in Gardiner, NY. The event, which is growing every year, is mostly comprised of the fellow FDNY brothers and sisters, friends and family members of Firefighter Stephen Russell.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Engine Company 55 of the Fire Department of New York responded to the World Trade Center towers. Geared up and loaded with equipment, the onduty members of Engine 55 – Lt. Peter Freund, FF Faustino Apostol, FF Stephen Russell, FF Robert Lane and FF Chris Mozzillo – entered the building prepared to do their job; save lives. Sadly, these five brave men all lost their own lives that day and are now kept very much alive in the hearts and minds of the ones they left. One of the many people is the nephew of FF Stephen Russell, FF Chris Russell, who in August of 2007, became a member of Engine 55, in Little Italy, NY. Following in his uncle’s footsteps, Chris was now trying to fill the shoes Steve, unfortunately, could not.
As tradition goes in the FDNY, many memorial events are held honoring members lost in the line of duty. In this case, Chris, now a Firefighter, wanted to keep his uncle’s name alive through an event of his own, Skydiving! The idea came from a work calendar on Stephen’s desk in his office at home. Chris noticed that his uncle had written “SkyDiving” in the box for September 19, 2001. With the help of Christine Stefanski (girlfriend of FF Lane) and Chris’ grandmother, Marie Russell, Chris learned that his uncle had a trip planned with FF Lane, to go skydiving for their first time.
“They never got to do it, so we do it for them! And in their honor!” said Chris Russell at the 3rd Annual ‘Stephen P. Russell Memorial SkyDive.’ Underneath a blue canopy, pitched just on the edge of the landing zone of The Blue Sky Ranch, the barbeque was roaring, drinks were being enjoyed and the friends, family and supporters basked in the experience that is skydiving. Chris, who did his first backflip out, was joined by several members of his firehouse including Martha Brekke, jumping tandem for her third year, as well as Keith Roberts, who is an experienced jumper. Chris’ mother, Christina Russell, and sister, Erika Russell, both spontaneously decided to jump for their first time, having gotten caught up in the thrill of it all. Christine Stefanski was also there to make the leap along with many others. The event was a success, twice as large as the year before and continuing to grow. Wide eyes, and laughing smiles were surrounded by good stories and a sea of blue memorial shirts created each year to raise money for a scholarship set up in Stephen’s name. It is an event meant to celebrate and remember the life of an obviously missed and well loved firefighter, friend and family man – and was exactly that.
It is held annually on September 19 at the Blue Sky Ranch, in Gardiner, NY.