Devoted to Career And His Firehouse 'Family'

November 11, 2001

Lt. Steve J. Bates always saw the guys in the firehouse as his true family.

Bates, 42, of Glendale had a rough childhood, said Joan Puwalski, his companion of 10 years. His mother died when he was a child, and his father wasn't around. Engine Co. 235 in Bedford-Stuyvesant really gave him a "family feeling," she said, and he looked forward to dinners with the guys and cooking them sauerbraten.

He was devoted to his 18-year career, Puwalski said. After work, he studied four hours a day for the captain's test. When he took the lieutenant's test three years ago, he placed 20th out of all the test takers. "He was really dedicated and diligent in pursuing his career," Puwalski said.

At one time Bates even pursued two careers by working and going to nursing school full-time. "Steve hears something and thinks it's a great idea and goes after it," she said. Eventually his concentration shifted back to the firefighting career he loved.

He was also a dedicated golfer and a focused athlete who competed in triathlons and marathons. He had been a star pitcher for Grover Cleveland High School in Flushing, and he had a love of sports all through his life, Puwalski said. "He competed just for the pleasure of competing," said Puwalski, who often got up early to attend his events and cheer him on, and also sometimes participated.

But Bates wasn't on a typical athlete's diet. He loved to eat "anything with butter on it," put butter on his hamburgers, Puwalski said, and only went to butter-friendly delis.

"He had a very big heart, and he loved animals," she said. Their dogs Norton and Samantha were "his babies."

He loved working with his firehouse family and looked forward to retiring and moving from the Glendale house he grew up in and shared with Puwalski to a summer house and a half-acre of land in East Hampton. "That was his place to go for peace and solitude," Puwalski said.

Bates always made a little time for peace at work, too. "He would say, 'Don't call the firehouse between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, because that's my quiet time,'" Puwalski said. His love of naps tempered his love of work.

On the morning of Sept. 11 he borrowed $20 from Puwalski to buy rolls and bagels for his brothers, as they all started a new day at the firehouse.

-- Devi Athiappan (Newsday)