Gary Celentani, a member of Squad 288, which lost eight members at the World Trade Center, became the Fire Department's first post-Sept. 11 suicide when he put a rifle to his chest and pulled the trigger at about 6:40 p.m. Wednesday in his basement apartment on 170th Street in Flushing, Queens, sources said.
Cops said they found Celentani's body before a shrine that included the photos of numerous firefighters and a police officer. They also found a suicide note in which Celentani said a recent breakup with his girlfriend drove him to kill himself.
Friends said he also was deeply affected by the recent death of his mother, Mary. "Gary was this big, strong guy, but he was sensitive and loved his friends," said former Capt. John Vigiano, whose sons John, a firefighter, and Joseph, a cop, died in the WTC attack and were close friends of Celentani.
Celentani was a pallbearer at Joseph Vigiano's funeral. The brothers' pictures were among the images that Celentani, who was undergoing department counseling, kept in his shrine.
"I definitely think Sept. 11 affected him, as it affected a lot of young men and women who lost co-workers," Vigiano said.
Vigiano had spoken to the 33-year-old Long Island native last weekend - and Celentani offered to help his late friends' father around the house.
"That was the kind of guy he was," Vigiano said. "Just call him and he'd come over and help you."
Celentani was a city firefighter since 1996, although the FDNY could not immediately determine where he was assigned on Sept. 11, 2001.
In 1999, as a member of Ladder 27, Celentani wielded an extinguisher to knock down a roiling fire in a hallway so his captain could save a woman from a building, according to department records.