By MICHAEL WILSON -NY TIMES
hen a firefighter dies, the men at his firehouse – men with whom he has spent hundreds, even thousands of hours – are almost invariably able to mutter only a stunned generality: He was a great guy. Firefighters are ready for just about anything at a moment’s notice, but never that, talking to a stranger at the door.
Three firefighters became great guys yesterday. And if the words spoken about them had an air of familiarity, it was because they had been said often before.
One was a lieutenant and father from Malverne, N.Y., who worked two jobs so that his wife could raise their children. Another, a father of four young children – including one named for the Jersey Shore town where he had met his wife – had just passed the lieutenant’s exam. The third was a strapping man and a proud uncle who took his sister’s children to his firehouse to meet Santa Claus.
They died yesterday from above, jumping from a burning building in the Bronx, and below, perishing in a smoky basement in Brooklyn.
As the deadliest day in the Fire Department since Sept. 11 finally darkened with nightfall, firefighters streamed into Engine Company 290 and Ladder 103 in Brooklyn, where Firefighter Richard T. Sclafani, 37, had served.
When Lt. Paul Brown spoke of Firefighter Sclafani, he could have been speaking of all three of the men.
“He was a good fireman,” he said. “Very knowledgeable. He had a lot of special skills that he was able to teach the other guys.” He paused, and apologized: “I’m a little numb right now.”
The same numbness had spread to a firehouse in the Bronx, and to the quiet streets where the firefighters’ relatives lived.
Lt. Curtis W. Meyran, 46, of Battalion 26, was the sole officer killed, and the oldest. He joked that he felt like a dinosaur when he was promoted; that and the 15 years he had spent on the job.
He met his wife, Jeanette, at the gas station where he worked in 1981. They began dating, and married in September 1986. He bought the house on Morris Avenue in Malverne, on Long Island, across the street from the one where he had grown up. They had three children, Dennis, 16, Angela, 10, and Danine, 6.
In 1997, Firefighter Meyran helped in the rescue of two little girls trapped in a burning basement in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He recalled later, “I heard a little wheezing and moaning maybe, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.” He found one child and took her outside.
Years later, studying for the lieutenant’s exam turned into something of a family affair. Lieutenant Meyran had always worked a second job – landscaping, construction, and carpentry – so that his wife could stay home. He did not have much time to read the books, so Mrs. Meyran read them into a tape recorder, she said, livening up the dry manuals with long sections on every little procedure with little jokes. She put notes in with his lunch, she said, like “What’s a ‘rear egress?’ ”
It’s a way out. A safe exit. There was none yesterday.
He jumped from a fourth-floor window, trapped above what witnesses said was an explosion of flame. Lieutenant Meyran had not even been on the schedule this weekend, but he went in for an overtime tour.
“He couldn’t sit still if his life depended on it. He was like a rabbit, ricocheting all over the place,” Mrs. Meyran said yesterday. His brother, Glenn Meyran, lives across the street, in the home where they grew up. He called his brother the “consummate father,” adding, “If he was saving people when he died, that’s about as good as you can do.”
The firefighter who died with him, John G. Bellew, 37, of Ladder 27, had other plans when he graduated from Manhattan College, his brother said.
“He tried the business world,” said the brother, Danny Bellew, himself a firefighter, along with a few cousins. Eventually, John Bellew came around and joined the department 10 years ago. He had worked with Ladder 10 and Engine Company 23.
He was a lifeguard when he was young, in the Rockaways, and loved the beach. He met his wife, Eileen, on the Jersey Shore, in the town of Brielle. She was from Pearl River, N.Y. They married and put up a sign in the front yard of their home there: “The Bellews, est. 1995.”
He and his wife liked the little town where they had met so much, they gave their first daughter its name. Brielle, 6, was the oldest of four children, followed by Jack, 3, Katreana, 2, and Kieran, 5 months. Their father coached Brielle’s soccer team.
His brother struggled for words, and said, “Just say this: He loved his family. He’ll miss them as much as they’ll miss him.”
Across the street, a neighbor lowered her flag to half-staff. Firefighter Bellew had recently passed the lieutenant’s exam, a friend said.
Firefighter Sclafani, of Ladder 103, lived alone in Bayside, Queens. His mother, Joan Sclafani, and sister Jo Ann’s family live on Staten Island, and he drove there often to visit his nephews, ages 4 and 2. But he never met his niece, born three weeks ago.
“He brought the kids to his firehouse for Christmas,” said his brother-in-law, Joseph Asch, 34. “All my kids went, met Santa Claus.”
He liked Ladder 103 because it has long been considered a hot spot. He recently got a puppy, named it Mugsy and took it to work with him. His passion was weightlifting.
“He was in extremely great physical condition,” said Wally Merecka, a firefighter who joined the department with Firefighter Sclafani in 1995.
Firefighter Merecka’s eyes were red, and he, like the lieutenant before him, struggled for words on a cold night. “He was very strong. He was a good man,” he said. “He shot straight from the hip.”
The Fire Department said they were the 1,129th, 1,130th and 1,131st firefighters to die in line of duty.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Patrick O’Gilfoil Healy, Paul von Zielbauer, John Holl and Jason George.