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Wantagh firefighter, “Mr. Brooklyn” leaves an impact

Phillip F. Stenger dies at 89

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Phillip F. Stenger, a longtime member of the Wantagh Fire Department died on June 15 at the age of 89.

Stenger served as a firefighter for Engines 6 and 1 from March 31, 1958 to October 22, 1972. One man who recalled seeing Stenger bolt out of his home to fight fires is Michael Leninger, an ex-Captain and current firefighter for the Wantagh FD. He grew up in the same neighborhood as Stenger and his family, befriending his three children Kenneth, Nancy and Karen.

Although their firefighting careers never overlapped, he befriended Stenger, who he later called Phil, during their time as board members for the Volunteer and Exempt Firemen’s Benevolent Association of Wantagh. In Stenger’s near-20 year stint in the association, he served as a Vice President and President.

“As he was an initial inspiration for me to join the Department, he guided me with my duties on the board,” Leninger said. “His fierce attention to detail and forward-looking perspective was invaluable.”

Along with contributing to his community, Stenger spent 45 year of his six-decade career in banking working in Brooklyn and becoming an active member of several Brooklyn business organizations. Among these groups was the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, where Stenger was once chairman of its board.

“Phil Stenger was, in every sense, a true gentleman,” said Rick Russo, acting president of the chamber. “A giant of the banking world, Phil’s leadership with legions of organizations over the decades places him central to the Brooklyn renaissance.”

Stenger served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was a congregant at the St. Frances de Chantal church in Wantagh. His son Kenneth recalled piling into his father’s old Mercury Grand Marquis on Sundays — the only day it would be out on the road — with his shoes shined and outfit pressed for mass.

He was a mainstay at parades with the Wantagh Fire Department. In his later years, Stenger would park a chair on the corner of Emeric and Wantagh Avenues, shaking hands with fellow retirees and smiling as the trucks passed by his post.

“The Wantagh Fire Department was a true highlight of the parade for my dad, who loved his community and the Wantagh FD family immensely,” Kenneth added.

Along with his three children, Stenger is survived by his wife of 64 years, Evelyn; his six grandchildren: Laura, Kimberly, Kathleen, Robert, Kenneth and Kaleigh; and his siblings Patricia Harris, Mary Desmond, Eileen Haggerty and Robert. He was predeceased by his brother Raymond.