'Mr. Ladder 24' Just Wanted to Save Lives

September 21, 2001

Whether the medium was water or fire, Stephen Belson just wanted to save lives.

Born in Queens, Belson, 51, attended Francis Lewis High School and Lehman College in the Bronx, where he graduated with a degree in physical education. He worked for several years as a lifeguard and then, with a group of fellow lifeguards, joined the fire department.

Over the years, many of his lifeguard buddies took ********* exams and moved up the ranks, said his mother Madeline, but Belson had little interest in management. "He just wanted to be a firefighter," she said. A firefighter for 22 years, he worked at Ladder 24, Manhattan.

His mother said he received commendations for bravery, but a friend, Kevin Callaghan, says he was "brave every day. ... He was one of the most senior and knowledgeable firefighters there. He was known as 'Mr. Ladder 24.'"

In a search and rescue last year, Belson seriously injured his back and later underwent spinal surgery. "His only fear was that he would not be able to go back to work," his mother said. Instead, he was given light duty as a chief's aide. Callaghan said he could have gone out on disability. Instead, Belson was with the chief in one of the building lobbies when the trade center collapsed. Besides his mother, he is survived by his brother, Bruce. --Mary Voboril (Newsday)