A STORY YESTERDAY ABOUT THE FUNERAL OF D.C. FIREFIGHTER ANTHONY PHILLIPS INCORRECTLY REPORTED THE DATE OF FIREFIGHTER LOUIS J. MATTTHEWS'S DEATH. MATTHEWS DIED MONDAY AFTERNOON. (PUBLISHED 06/06/99)
A young D.C. firefighter in his dress blues, standing outside Bethesda New Life Gospel Church, crumpled to the ground and wept. Moments before, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), sounding like a Baptist minister, had begun speaking of D.C. firefighter Anthony Phillips, who died in a town house blaze on Sunday.
"Fire can burn the body and suck the breath from our lungs. But it cannot steal our souls," Hoyer said. People inside the Northeast Washington church clapped and shouted, "Hallelujah!"
Outside the church, the field was covered with grief. There stood a nearly silent sea of dark blue made by hundreds of uniformed members of "the family" of firefighters, from all the Washington area companies and from others as far away as Buffalo.
The front doors of the church were closed even before the 10 a.m. funeral began because every one of the 420 seats was taken. Mourners filled the overflow room to the side of the chapel, content to hear the sweet hymns and eulogies. The firefighters stood outside, gathered around speakers or under one of the eight tents that offered the only shade.
Phillips, 30, a four-year member of Engine Company 10, died in an inferno Sunday, doing the job he loved, a job it took seven years of waiting to get. Another firefighter, Louis J. Matthews, 29, an eight-year member of Engine Company 26, died Tuesday of burns suffered during the same fire. There was a wake for Matthews yesterday evening; his funeral will be today.
Two other firefighters were injured in the blaze. Firefighter Joseph Morgan Jr., 36, remains hospitalized with burns covering 60 percent of his body. Lt. Charles Redding, 41, of Hyattsville, has been released from a hospital.
Several times during the service for Phillips, of Lanham Hills, speakers remarked about the amazing strength of his 26-year-old wife, Lysa, who at times smiled and comforted others. Phillips's son, Anthony Jr., 6, sported a blue firefighter's baseball cap. The couple also has a 21-month-old daughter, Azrell.
Hoyer said Phillips was the 95th firefighter to die in the history of the D.C. department.
The truck that Phillips rode -- now stenciled with his nickname, "Sauce," at the bottom of the door where he stood on Sunday -- waited in the church parking lot to carry him one last time. He was eulogized at the church he loved, an unassuming brick chapel at 750 Kenilworth Ave. NE, just off Interstate 295. The marquee outside said, "God Bless You Brother Tony Phillips. Rest In Peace. We Miss You."
Phillips became a member of the church at age 14, when he sang in the Youth Chorus and served on the usher board. Later, he joined the Kings of Faith gospel group, studied the Bible and was a mentor to young men through the Men's Fellowship Ministry.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) recalled a story about Phillips showing up for work on his first day "sporting his engine jacket" with his nickname at the time, "Hotsauce," already on it. "Apparently, no one had bothered to tell him the cardinal rule of nicknames: You're not allowed to pick your own."
Phillips's punishment was to be taunted with other names -- "Mayonnaise, Mustard, Ketchup -- anything but `Hotsauce.' "
Finally, everyone settled on "Sauce," Williams said.
Raymond Sneed, president of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, explained: "He loved to eat, and in large quantities. He had a reputation for putting hot sauce on everything."
Out on the lawn, a woman in dress blues rubbed the shoulders of a fellow firefighter, who bowed his head and wept. Another woman held up her firefighter husband each time his body went limp with grief.
President Clinton sent a message, passed out to those in attendance, which in part said, "Sacrificing all to safeguard the well-being of others, firefighters Phillips and Matthews represent what is best about America."
Later in the day, a steady procession of weary firefighters, many still in their formal blue suits, moved through another line to view the casket of Matthews at St. Paul Baptist Church in Capitol Heights.
This was after they had hoisted the glistening casket of Anthony Sean Phillips Sr. onto the truck of Engine Company 10, where his charred hat and size 11 boots stood at the back. This was after the hour-long procession that went through the city, stretching from Northeast to Southeast and Southwest, passing his old fire station on Florida Avenue, where a line of his co-workers saluted and a big silver bell rang out.
Then Phillips passed one last time before the people he served and served beside. Past the dozens of flashing firetrucks and ambulances and cars at every intersection. Past the intersection of Minnesota and Pennsylvania avenues, where someone tossed red chrysanthemums at the casket.
Over the Anacostia River, where the rescue boats flashed their lights and shot arching fountains of water into the sky. Past the children gathered outside Peabody Elementary School, who waved and saluted. Past the middle-aged white man on Maryland Avenue who held a small American flag and a hand-painted sign that said: "Thank you."
And the middle-aged black woman on Bladensburg Road who held the barely legible handwritten sign: "God Bless The Phillips Family." And the crowd in front of the Fort Lincoln town houses, where Phillips died trying to save someone's property. There, elderly and young stood ramrod straight with their hands over their hearts.
And finally, to Fort Lincoln Cemetery, where just outside the gates, people lined one side of the street and two firetrucks formed an upside-down "V" with the American flag hanging between them, flapping in the wind.
Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Deirdre DeSilva comforts her husband, firefighter Sydney DeSilva, after the funeral of firefighter Anthony Phillips at Bethesda New Life Gospel Church. Behind them is the Engine Company 10 truck carrying Phillips's casket.
CAPTION: (Photo ran in an earlier edition) Firefighters salute as pallbearers carry the coffin of Anthony Phillips before interment at Fort Lincoln Cemetery, following a procession through much of the city he served in his four years as a firefighter.
CAPTION: Lt. Charles Redding, who suffered burns in the house fire that killed firefighters Anthony Phillips and Louis J. Matthews, arrives at Phillips's funeral. Firefighter Joseph Morgan Jr. remains hospitalized for treatment of his burns.
CAPTION: Pallbearers place the casket of Anthony Phillips onto the fire engine on which he worked. Members of the Phillips family are in the foreground. The fire engine carried the casket on an hour-long procession through the District.
CAPTION: (Photo ran on page A01) A Path of Honor
D.C. Fire Chief Donald Edwards walks with Anthony Phillips Jr., 6, and Lysa Phillips as they approach a Northeast Washington church for the funeral of her husband, Anthony Phillips, one of two District firefighters killed in a house fire Sunday. The other, Louis J. Matthews, will be buried today.