Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis (see photo gallery of his Celebration of Life at bottom)

The Fire Department of New York and New York University today hosted a Celebration of Life in remembrance of Fire Marshal and Air National Guard pilot Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, who died at age 37 in an American military helicopter crash along the Iraq-Syria border on March 15. Zanetis graduated cum laude from NYU's College of Arts and Science (CAS) in 2003.

A procession transporting Zanetis's remains departed from his former firehouse—Engine 28/Ladder 11 on 2nd Street—and concluded near the fountain in Washington Square Park. A military honors event in the park included a 21-gun salute, and hundreds turned out in the cool morning drizzle to pay their respects.

In keeping with Zanetis's wishes, a ceremony was then held inside NYU's Kimmel Center for University Life, and speakers included NYU President Andrew Hamilton, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, as well as family members, friends, and colleagues.  

"It seems to me we lost a superman," said de Blasio. "We lost someone who was endowed with an extraordinary ability to wrench from life the greatness of every moment. So many people were affected by his good example and so many more will be."

Said Hamilton, "As NYU's president, I often talk in speeches and at parents meetings of the type of student we hope to nurture here at NYU—leaders committed to public service, engaged with their communities, and dedicated to making a positive impact in the world. I could not imagine a better example of that ideal student than Tripp."



Zanetis grew up in Carmel, Indiana, and quickly fell in love with his adopted city of New York while attending NYU, where he majored in politics, was a member of the Men's Swimming and Diving team, and became chair of the Student Senators Council in his senior year. Zanetis was living just blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes struck the towers on September 11, 2001—in the first weeks of Zanetis's sophomore year—and, almost instinctively, he headed straight into those scenes of tragedy to provide aid to the first responders and emergency workers.

“I think that’s what made him become a New York City fireman,” his mother, Sarah Zanetis, told the New York Times.

After earning his BA from NYU, he was appointed a firefighter at Engine 28/Ladder 11 in 2004, was promoted to fire marshal in 2013, and became part of the FDNY's Bureau of Fire Investigation's Citywide South Command. Ever anxious to contribute more, Zanetis also joined the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, and went on to fly search and rescue helicopter missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, earning five Air Medals and the Meritorious Service Medal for his combat efforts, and the rank of major in the U.S. Air Force. He originally entered the military under "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and served openly after it was repealed in 2011, acting as an outspoken advocate for both LGBT and veterans issues.

Zanetis then decided to pursue a career in law—turning to former CAS Dean Matthew Santirocco for a letter of recommendation—and gained admission to Stanford Law School. When he graduated with pro bono distinction in 2017, he had been a member of the National LGBT Law Association (which had elected him Student of the Year), had served as co-president of Stanford's Law Veteran's Organization, had co-produced the Stanford Law Musical, and had facilitated the school's first OutLaw Conference on LGBTQ Advocacy in the Workplace. A former intern with the Office of Legal Affairs at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Zanetis recently started a new position as an associate with the firm Debevoise & Plimpton in New York.  

"He could've done anything, but he kept answering that call to serve others," said de Blasio. "On behalf of the eight and a half million New Yorkers, I want to offer the Zanetis family our condolences, our love, our support. We loved Tripp, and we remain eternally indebted to him."