Peter Brennan's love for his job kept him as enthused as a fresh recruit despite his six years of experience with the New York Fire Department. He reported to work early Tuesday "itching to get back to fighting fires" after a six-week vacation, said his wife, who is expecting their second child in January.
Glen Pettit, a photographer for the New York Police Department, was happiest when he was squinting through a camera, videotaping crime scenes.
John Napolitano lived to rescue people and douse flames for the New York City and Lakeland fire departments.
The three men all grew up in Ronkonkoma. They come from families of civil servants, bloodlines with strong connections to the professions that keep cities and states afloat: teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers. Brennan and Pettit were both 30 at the time of the attacks; Napolitano was 33. Friends since high school, they were bonded by a mix of fond memories and a passion for their roles as civil servants. And they were part of the rescue effort at the World Trade Center.
Yesterday, all three shared a grim commonality: They were missing and feared dead.
"He saw the bravery and the honor that goes with fighting fires," Anne Napolitano said of her husband at their Ronkonkoma home. "It was truly his life."
Napolitano, who worked for Rescue 2, based in Brooklyn, is a former chief of the Lakeland Volunteer Fire Department.
He reported to work Monday evening for a 24-hour shift and later called home to say goodnight to his two daughters, Elizabeth, 6, and Emma, 2.
Anne Napolitano, who works in marketing at Computer Associates, was in the company cafeteria Tuesday morning when she saw the attack at the World Trade Center on television. "I saw it happen," she said. "I just knew from the magnitude" of it that everyone from Rescue 2 would be at the scene.
Napolitano had graduated from Connetquot High School. It was during those years that he met his wife, as well as Brennan and Pettit.
"He was really skilled at what he did," said Pettit's sister, Deirdre Kroupa, 33, of Islip Terrace. "He's also a very energetic and strong man who adores his family."
Pettit, who had worked as a freelance photographer for Newsday and volunteered at the Lakeland and West Sayville fire departments, had gone to crime scenes with NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik for the past year, just as he did Tuesday.
But something went dreadfully wrong that day, Kroupa said.
Pettit was walking toward Tower One with his partner, Scott Nicholson, after the first building collapsed, when the girders of the building began to give way, spilling tons of steel, concrete and glass onto the street.
Nicholson told Pettit's family that both men ran from the avalanche, with Pettit about 100 yards behind, but that he disappeared in the plumes of dust that filled the streets.
Yesterday, his family, his three brothers and two sisters and their families crowded into his parents' Ronkonkoma home to watch the news and wait for word. "The family is having a really tough time," Kroupa said, adding that their spirits were lifted when they heard the news - apparently false - that five firefighters had emerged from the rubble yesterday. "We're just trying to sort through what's real and not real."
Peter Brennan's wife, Erica, said her husband, who worked at Rescue 4 in Queens, is to receive the Long Island Volunteer Firefighters Gold Award of Valor this month, for saving other firefighters trapped in a Ronkonkoma basement.
He was always eager to use the life-saving skills he had dreamed of acquiring for years, said his wife of six years. "My husband loves to help people. He couldn't wait to go back to work after vacation."
The couple had just returned from taking their daughter Anna, 2, to Dutch Wonderland in Pennsylvania, and they celebrated Erica's 29th birthday Monday night. "He was itching to go back and see some fire. He loved it so much," she said.
Erica Brennan added that her husband is fascinated with ropes and using knots to serve as lifelines for fire victims. A former New York police officer, he'd been a volunteer for the Lakeland fire department for many years before joining the volunteer squad in Hauppauge.
"He put his heart and soul into firefighting," she said. "If this is the way he had to die, this is the way he would have preferred to die: doing what he loved."
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