He Always Wanted to Be a Fireman

December 30, 2001

There's a home video of Daniel Brethel at age 4, wearing a fire hat that he'd gotten for Christmas, and grinning from ear to ear.

Daniel would build fire stations out of cardboard boxes in his East Meadow living room and push his plastic trucks speedily to make-believe fires in the furniture.

Many little boys dream of becoming firemen. Daniel Brethel followed through.

On Sept. 11, the 43-year-old New York Fire Department captain rushed to the World Trade Center at an hour when he should have been driving home after his shift. As he and his colleagues rushed toward the burning buildings, Brethel shouted out a warning.

"Firemen will die here today," he said. "Don't let it be you."

Minutes later, Brethel himself was dead, crushed by falling debris as the buildings collapsed. His body, found under a fire truck where he and a colleague had dived for cover, was one of the first recovered after the tragedy.

"All he ever wanted to be was a fireman," said Brethel's sister, Elizabeth Domino, of Setauket.

Brethel, who lived in Farmingville with his wife, Carol, and their two daughters, Meghan, 12, and Kristin, 14, always took advantage of time with his family. He knew what his daughters' homework assignments were and when their next orthodontist's appointment would be, Domino said.

"His kids really know him," his sister said. "He was very gentle, a very guiding type of person."

Brethel is also survived by his father, David Brethel of Amityville; his brothers, David Brethel of West Islip, and Bill Brethel of Columbus, Ohio; and another sister, Loretta Brethel Feret of East Meadow.

He was especially involved with his family in the months just before he died, and the people who love him are thankful for that now.

In April, he helped plan a family trip to Disney World with his father, three of his siblings and their children. The family hadn't taken a big group trip in years, and this time they did it up big. They reserved a bank of rooms in a hotel together and spent several days just clowning around in the Florida sun.

Brethel and his daughters would make sure they were the last people to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster before the ride shut down each night.

"He was like a big kid," Domino said. "And he loved to see his girls having fun like that."

This fall, just before the kids went back to school, Brethel, his siblings and their children piled into three cars and made their way out to Ohio, where Brethel's brother Bill lives.

It was a long car ride for just a five-day trip, but this time the family decided not to put it off.

"There was no reason to do it other than 'why not?'" Domino said. "Everything just came together so that it could happen. Now it seems like it was sort of meant to be."

-- Ann Givens (Newsday)