NY firefighters among 7 service members killed in Iraq helicopter crash

BAGHDAD — Two New York City firefighters were among seven service members killed when a U.S. helicopter crashed in Iraq.

Commack Fire Department identified one of the victims as Christopher Raguso, who was a flight engineer in the Air National Guard, a lieutenant with their department and in the FDNY. Lieutenant Raguso was also with Division 13 in Queens.

"Chris was always there to help anyone with anything, he would never say no," the department said, calling Raguso "a great American Patriot, friend and brother."

The aircraft crashed in western Iraq on Thursday, killing everyone on board, the Pentagon said in a written statement.

Fire Marshal Christopher T. “Tripp” Zanetis of the Bureau of Fire Investigation also died in the crash. Fire Marshal Zanetis is a 10-year veteran.

U.S. officials said seven service members were killed. They spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the crash before they were made public.

“Today, we mourn the deaths of FDNY Lieutenant Christopher J. Raguso and FDNY Fire Marshal Christopher T. “Tripp” Zanetis, who were killed in an American military helicopter crash in Iraq on Thursday, March 15,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “They are truly two of New York City’s bravest – running into danger to protect and defend others, both in New York City and in combat overseas. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to their families, loved ones, and fellow service members and FDNY members.”

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service – as New York City Firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said Commissioner Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire Department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

Lieutenant Raguso was appointed as a Firefighter in March of 2005 and assigned to Ladder Company 113 in Flatbush, Brooklyn. In September, 2016, he was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions as an individual Firefighter or as part of a unit.

Fire Marshal Zanetis was appointed Firefighter in September of 2004 and assigned to Engine Company 28 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 2007 he transferred to Ladder Company 11, located in the same firehouse. In April, 2013, he was promoted to Fire Marshal and assigned to the Bureau of Fire Investigation’s Citywide South in Brooklyn. In 2014, he was recognized for his bravery as part of an investigative unit.

Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal Zanetis are the 1,148th and 1,149th members of the Department to make the Supreme Sacrifice in the line-of-duty. The last member of the Department to die in the line of duty was Firefighter William N. Tolley of Ladder Company 135, who died on April 20th, 2017. The last member of the Department to make the Supreme Sacrifice while in active military service was Firefighter Christian P. Engledrum, who was killed in action on November 29, 2004 in Iraq.

The crash did not appear to be the result of enemy activity and is under investigation, the Pentagon said.

"This tragedy reminds us of the risks our men and women face every day in service of our nations. We are thinking of the loved ones of these service members today," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, director of operations in the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria.

The helicopter was used by the Air Force for combat search and rescue, and was in transit from one location to another when it went down Thursday afternoon near the town of Qaim in Anbar Province.

The Pentagon said an accompanying U.S. helicopter immediately reported the crash and a quick-reaction force comprised of Iraqi security forces and Coalition members secured the scene.

The names of those killed will be released after next of kin have been notified, the statement added.

President Donald Trump offered his thoughts and prayers on Twitter Friday for the families of service members killed, saying he was thinking of the "brave troops," and adding that "their sacrifice in service to our country will never be forgotten."

The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have an outpost in Qaim, which is located near the Syrian border. The anti-IS campaign accelerated through much of last year, as coalition and Iraqi forces battled to take back a string of cities and towns.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over IS in Mosul in July. In the following months, Iraqi forces retook a handful of other IS-held towns including Tal Afar in August, Hawija in September and Qaim in October. In November, Iraqi forces retook the last Iraqi town held by IS — Rawah, near the border with Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition has continued to work with Iraq and Syrian Democratic Forces to shore up the border region to make sure that foreign fighters and insurgents can't move freely across the region.

Currently, 62 FDNY personnel are on extended military orders in the branches of the United States Armed Forces, serving around the world. There are more than 1400 FDNY members who are military reservists or veterans.