A Firefighter Who Loved to Build by Hand

January 8, 2002

Paul Michael Beyer had an artisan's hands. There was often grease under his cuticles from working on his Jeep, or Sheetrock dust on his palms from erecting a wall.

He and his wife, Arlene, began building their dream house in Staten Island last July, his wife said. Beyer had installed windows, built a garage and workshop, and had begun to "brick the chimney," she said.

"He was building that house with his own hands," said Beyer's friend and co-worker William Green. But he would never finish.

Beyer, 37, a member of Engine Co. 6 in downtown Manhattan, is presumed dead in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Green, who was with Beyer when they got the call to head to the World Trade Center, recounted the events of that day: "Paul was gearing up like all of us when we got there. We were heading in to put out that fire, but getting up those stairs was very fatiguing. We regrouped at the 17th floor, and took a short break."

He said that firefighters were scrambling to find change to purchase water from a vending machine because of dehydration and exhaustion. Green axed the vending machine; water bottles were readily available for all. Green and Beyer were amused. "Paul and I actually laughed when I axed the vending machine," Green said.

The men of Engine 6 headed up to the 31st floor of Tower One and caught their breath. "A lieutenant from Engine 10 told us we had to make a push," Green said. The two men headed up again, but became separated by two floors. Beyer, who didn't have a radio, didn't receive evacuation orders.

A skilled machinist and mechanic, Beyer spent hours revamping a classic 1973 Jeep, his wife said. He had built a modification for the driveshaft that improved the vehicle's performance in the rain, and had taken a photo of himself along with his creation that he was planning to send to a four-wheel-drive enthusiasts' magazine, she said.

Born in Staten Island in 1963, Beyer graduated from Tottenville High School in 1981. He went to work as a machinist for the next 12 years, and joined the New York Fire Department in 1993.

Paul Beyer and his wife met in Tottenville, a town with one main street, on Staten Island. "We lived in a very quiet, old neighborhood," she said. "It takes five minutes to drive through the whole town. It's very quaint. Everybody knows everybody." The couple married in June 1986.

They dreamed of buying a house and living in rural upstate New York because of their love of "the country," but decided to stay in the town where they grew up, when the opportunity to build there was presented to them.

After Sept. 11, it took Arlene Beyer "about a week and a half" to return to the house her husband had begun building. When she did, she found flowers on the fence, candles everywhere, and strangers offering support and friendship.

The completion of the house is now inevitable. Friends, neighbors and members of the fire department have helped tile the floors, and finish the chimney. His wife said that a Maltese cross, the symbol for the NYFD, will be carved into the completed chimney. She projects a spring open house.

The couple's two children, Michael Paul, 15, and Shawn Patrick, 13, have remained "very strong" for their mother, she said. Her husband "always made time for the boys," whether it was taking them off-roading, camping, or to band practice, and was "always willing to help out," his wife said.

Coping has been made less of a daunting task because of the support that she has been receiving from the men of the NYFD. "I can't believe the amount of support," she said. "These guys are like my guardian angels."

-- Nick Iyer (Newsday)