NEW YORK (AP) -- On a bright and bitter cold day, a 37-year-old Brooklyn firefighter was eulogized Friday as a brave man and a free spirit as thousands of his colleagues gathered for the second firefighter funeral in as many days.
Even before he died, Richard Sclafani stood out because of his fearlessness _ even in a profession dominated by brave men, his family, friends, and co-workers told a crowd of hundreds of mourners that spilled outside Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Staten Island.
''Richard Sclafani was a true hero,'' said Fire Lt. Louis Rufrano. ''Not because of what he did Sunday, but what he did his whole life.... He left us doing what he loved to do _ going all in.''
The 10-year veteran was one of three Fire Department members killed during two fires Sunday. Just hours after two firefighters were killed while fighting a blaze in the Bronx, Sclafani rushed ahead of his colleagues during a fire inside a two-story Brooklyn house while searching for trapped occupants.
At some point, Sclafani got separated from the rest of his team. Minutes later, they found him on the cellar staircase, unconscious, and in respiratory arrest.
He died a short time later at a Brooklyn hospital.
''I didn't know Richie, but when I was at the hospital and I looked in his fellow firefighter's faces, it reinforced what kind of man we must have lost,'' said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. ''On the roughest jobs, he made sure he was the first one to plunge into danger.''
The Sclafani funeral was part of an extended period of mourning for the Fire Department.
On Saturday, a funeral will be held for Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, on Long Island. Meyran will be buried two days after the funeral for his colleague, John Bellew; both died in a four-story plunge from a burning building in the Bronx.
Sclafani was a character with a range of interests that kept people guessing, his family and colleagues said.
He delighted in practical jokes and all-night Texas hold 'em poker parties at his house in Bayside, Queens. He chewed tobacco, and did The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.
He loved to ride his motorcycle, even though he crashed into a fence the first time he got on, and he doted on his nieces and nephew and his Boston terrier, Mugsy.
He was known department-wide for his strapping physique, particularly his big biceps, which prompted other firefighters to stick pillows up their sleeves in order to imitate him.
Sclafani transferred to Ladder 103 in East New York because it is one of the busiest fire houses in the city.
''Life to Richie was like a full plate of food _ and he loved food,'' said his friend, Andy Alvarez, before breaking down in tears. ''And like food, he would accept nothing less than a full plate.''
Said his sister, JoAnn Sclafani-Asch: ''I have always looked up to him as a big brother. I have loved him as long as I can remember.''
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