Friends of fallen Marine and FDNY firefighter Christopher Slutman remembered him on Thursday as someone who was serious about his work and family, but with a great sense of humor, as they attended his wake in the Bronx.
Slutman, a Marine staff sergeant and 15-year veteran of the FDNY, was one of three Americans killed earlier this month when their convoy hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened near the main U.S. base in the country. Slutman was only three weeks from the end of his tour.
"We expected him to be back soon, but he’ll always be with us," said Lt. Jack Meara, who served in the same firehouse as Slutman. "Chris was a very serious person and it took awhile to get to know him — he was very serious about his work, he was very serious about his family. But once you get to know him, deep down inside, he loved to have a good laugh also. And that’s important in any line of work where there’s stress involved."
On Thursday, firefighters gathered at the Joseph A. Lucchese Funeral Home in the Bronx to remember their friend and comfort his wife, Shannon Slutman. Their three young daughters, McKenna, 10, Kenley, 8, and Wesleynn, 4, were not in attendance.
Slutman came from a long line of both firefighters and U.S. service members: His father, Fletcher Slutman, worked as a firefighter and served in the Army, and his mother, Mary Slutman, served as a volunteer firefighter, according to an FDNY spokesman. Slutman had three brothers — one is a firefighter in Washington D.C., one serves in the Marines, and a third serves in the Army — as well as a sister whose husband serves in the Air Force.
Inside the funeral home on Thursday, both a Marine and FDNY honor guard were in attendance in the viewing room, according to the FDNY.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Mayor Bill de Blasio met with the family and expressed his condolences Thursday evening. He said Friday’s funeral will be a "hero’s farewell."
"We’re here to support Chris’ family. He’s a true hero of this department, a true hero of this country," Nigro said. "Members of the ‘Bravest’ continue to amaze me each and every day. They set the bar very high; certainly Chris is a wonderful of example of what the people of this department mean to the city, and in this case, mean to our country."
Nigro said that the department is "a big family" and that it was important to let the family know the FDNY would never forget Slutman or his loved ones.
"The sadness we feel for his family, for his three little girls, for his wife, for his mom and dad, brothers, it’s unimaginable that he was taken in this way," Nigro added. "But this department will be there forever for them, to support them in any way possible."
Meara recalled the last time he spoke to Slutman, during a going away party for him, never thinking that he wouldn’t return.
"And we knew he was in the danger zone, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to your guy," he said. "We were looking forward to having him back, but he’ll always be with us."
Now, Meara said Slutman’s name on his locker will "stay up for as long as we’re working in that firehouse and probably for generations to come."
Fellow firefighter Dan Richter remembered him as brave, and with a great sense of humor — the kind of guy who would laugh at everyone else’s jokes over a meal before delivering the last punchline.
"He was willing to stand between the people he was serving and danger," he said on a more serious note, adding: "Chris was one of the most knowledgeable guys on the job that I ever worked with but he always felt there was something to learn… And I think that we’ll all take that away and really learn from that and really bring that with us."
As the afternoon session came to a close, dozens of firefighters lined up outside the funeral home on Morris Park Avenue to salute Slutman’s family as they left.
There are currently 73 FDNY members on active duty in the armed forces, according to the FDNY. Slutman was the fourth member of the FDNY to die serving in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003, and the 1,152nd member of the FDNY to die in the line of duty in the history of the department.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Thomas Church in midtown. Slutman will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.