MIDTOWN — The flag-draped casket of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman left a Bronx funeral home atop a fire engine caisson in a procession to Manhattan.
Thousands of firefighters and other responders lined both sides of Fifth Avenue for nearly a mile as it passed slowly to a drumbeat, arriving at the majestic St. Thomas Church amid the bagpipe strains of “Amazing Grace” and salutes.
The 43-year-old father of three young daughters died April 8 near Bagram Airfield U.S military base, just three weeks before he was to return home. Two other members of Slutman’s Massachusetts-based Marine Reserve unit also were killed.
A 15-year member of the Fire Department of New York, Slutman was with Ladder 27 in the Bronx. In 2014, he received a medal for bravery after rescuing an unconscious woman from a burning apartment in the South Bronx.
Marine Sgt. Major Chris Armstrong described Slutman as "a leader who was respected and admired."
"When I received the terrible news, my heart broke as I thought of Chris's family and unit," Armstrong said, fighting back tears.
Chris Williamson, who was Slutman's FDNY captain for four years, said, "One phrase that seems to keep coming up when describing Chris is the term 'squared away' — used by all branches of the military to describe one whose performance is even with or above satisfactory levels. I think everyone in this church that knew Chris would wholeheartedly agree that he was way above satisfactory levels."
Williamson continued: "Chris and his inside team forced open the door to the burning apartment and were met with high heat and thick black smoke that went from the floor to the ceiling. Chris crawled on his belly through the smoke to a rear bedroom and found an unconscious woman; he did this without the protection of a fire hose."
He then dragged the woman to safety.
The native of Newark, Delaware, also had served as a firefighter in Maryland.
"Today our city mourns a hero," Mayor Bill de Blasio said, adding that Slutman represented "the best in us."