Students complete FDNY mural

NYU artists don't let firefighter's dream die in ruins of World Trade Center

— Shortly after he graduated from the Fire Academy in July, Christian Regenhard hatched a plan to paint a mural on the doors of his firehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The design the 28-year-old artist and writer created was dominated by a blazing Maltese cross as a point of pride for Ladder Co. 131 and Engine Co. 279 on Lorraine Street.

Then, on Sept. 11, Regenhard jumped aboard a fire truck and raced through the Battery Tunnel. Among the first to reach the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center, he never came back.

Grief-stricken over the loss of five firehouse brothers, rookie Firefighter Konstantine Rallis worked to ensure that Regenhard's dream didn't die with him.

Rallis, who devised the mural idea with Regenhard, reached out to Terence Culver, an art professor at New York University who lives up the street from the firehouse. The project seemed ideal for Culver's students, who were searching for ways to help after the tragedy.

"The students were looking for a way to make a direct contribution and didn't have money," Culver said.

For seven weeks, 18 undergraduates worked out the design, got to know the firefighters and then prepped, primed and painted.

As she cleaned paintbrushes one afternoon, Nancy Hong, 20, said the mural helped her cope.

"I went to donate blood. They didn't need any. I felt so helpless and useless," she said. "This is a good way to deal with it, contributing something to the community. And it's a tribute. None of us knew Christian Regenhard personally, but the sentiment is there."

"I felt like I gotta do something," said Nick Leddy, 20. "It wasn't like sorting donations, it was doing something for them in their own place."

Firefighters, already overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community, were cheered by the NYU students' presence.

"Where else can they get a big door to paint on and nobody will lock you up?" joked Capt. Steven San Filippo.

On a recent damp December evening under floodlights, the students took turns putting the final touches on the mural.

Emblazoned on one of the doors, flames lick a Maltese cross, the traditional firefighter emblem. The cross is framed by "L-131" and "E-279," a hook and ladder and a hydrant. "Red Hook" blazes across the top and "Brooklyn, U.S.A." anchors the bottom. There is no reference to Sept. 11.

The students are planning to return in the spring to paint another mural on the other door.

Rookie Firefighter Larry Rooney � a former chef whose first day at Ladder Co. 131 was on Sept. 12 � cooked chicken and pasta to thank the students.

"Through kindness comes a masterpiece," he said.

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