The Man in Flannel
He was a tremendous pile of a man, 6 foot 2 and heavyset. His flannel shirt was tucked in, clarifying his dimension, as he flailed wildly about the dance floor of the bar in Queens.
Andrew Brunn was celebrating his 23rd birthday that night five years ago. Sigalit Cohen watched him all evening; she had a thing for flannel. His uninhibited dancing sometimes frightened the girls away, but "Sigal actually stuck in there and danced with him," said Patrick Sullivan, a friend.
She got his number and soon made a husband of Mr. Brunn, an intensely private man. He did not bother to tell his buddies in the Air National Guard of his computer studies or even of his marriage. He made little mention of his move to the Fire Department from the Police Department.
But after Sigalit danced with him, Mr. Brunn opened his life to her, revealing his passion for the ocean and for lighthouses, for movies that seemed to reflect their own story. They worked through the clashes between his Catholicism and her Judaism. Mr. Brunn, a devoted surfer, even persuaded Sigalit, who nearly drowned as a child, to join him on a flimsy board.
"He said, `I'll be there with you; I'll hold you if you fall,' so I trusted him," Mrs. Brunn said. "And he did."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 14, 2001.
Andrew C. Brunn traded in his career with the New York Police Department for a crack at fighting fires. That way, family members said, he figured he would have a better chance at saving lives.
The day he died, Brunn was still in training but was on the 35th floor of the World Trade Center with four other firefighters when a radio call told them to get out, said Anne Sugrue, a friend of the family. Brunn and the others moved slowly, helping an injured man and woman escape.
They had made it to the fifth floor when the building collapsed. Their bodies were later found together.Brunn had walked a beat as a police officer and been promoted to sergeant at the city jail, but he loved being a firefighter, Sugrue said.
When fellow firefighters expected him to have an attitude as a former police sergeant, she said he surprised them by cheerfully washing the floor and doing dishes like the other rookies instead.
"They said he was always grinning and smiling, he was like a sponge soaking up the information," she said, adding that Brunn even marveled at the quality of the department's uniforms.
He was still almost two months away from becoming a full firefighter, but already was planning for the day he could become a lieutenant. Firefighters found an application to take the test in his locker after his death. "He was always challenging himself," Sugrue said. "He was motivated."
He also was dedicated to his wife, Sigalit, and excited about their pending move to a new home. Four days before his death, Brunn and his wife were supposed to close on a house on Long Island. They were halfway packed, their apartment full of boxes, when the purchase was delayed by a porch that wasn't up to code.
His wife has decided to remain in their apartment rather than move into an empty home without him.
After Brunn's death, friends and family shared stories for hours about the wild, funny man who loved to surf and skateboard.
They talked about the time he jumped on a bar in New Orleans to lead a Jets cheer, even though no game was playing. "He was a huge Jets fan, and of course, you have to be faithful to be a Jets fan," Sugrue said.
Firefighters also provided support, and the neighborhood turned the firehouse Brunn loved into a makeshift shrine with candles, flowers and photos.
At Brunn's funeral, the block in front of the church was packed with people in the three uniforms Brunn had worn--police, fire and Air National Guard.
"It showed how much he did in a short time," Sugrue said.
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.