'Always Someone You Wanted on Your Team'

November 16, 2001

Tarel Coleman's family knew when he was just a youngster that he was destined to be a firefighter. Not content to witness a fire from afar, little Tarel had to see one up close.

"At 5 years old, he stuck his head inside an incinerator to see a fire," said his older brother, John Coleman Jr. Tarel had his eyebrows singed and lost some hair, but was otherwise unharmed. "That's when we basically knew he was going to be a firefighter," his brother said.

Tarel Coleman grew up to be a sports-loving, hip-hop music-loving member of Squad 252 in Bushwick. On Sept. 11, he died at the World Trade Center. The father of a teenage girl, Coleman was 32.

His brother said he and Coleman did everything together while growing up in Astoria and Rochdale Village. They were active children but never strayed far from the watchful eye of their mother, Laurel, he said.

"We were inseparable, mostly because our mother wouldn't let us go out without one another," he said. "He was very wild-eyed, very fiery ... He was always someone you wanted on your team."

Coleman graduated from Springfield Gardens High School and took the firefighters exam at age 18, though he wouldn't join the department until several years later. In 1987, Coleman married Michelle Brown, and they had a daughter, Danielle, now 13. They later divorced.

Coleman joined the fire department in 1993, fulfilling his lifelong dream. He was an avid Giants and Knicks fan, played defensive back for a fire department football team and played flag football for a local club known as TNP (Take No Prisoners).

His no-holds-barred style of play earned Coleman the nickname "Prozac." He also played softball for three teams, the X-Men and the Troublemakers of the Bricktown Softball League, and the L.I. Hitmen of the Nassau-Suffolk Softball Association, his brother said.

Tarel used his remarkable speed to become the "best outfielder there was," said John Coleman, a member of Battalion 35 in Brooklyn, who followed his little brother into the fire department. "He batted leadoff. He was a switch hitter ... He literally ran a 4.3 in the 40 [-yard dash]."

Running wasn't the only thing Coleman could do with his feet. "He really did love to dance," especially to hip-hop, R&B and salsa music, John Coleman said. "He would not leave the dance floor."

Coleman also is survived by his father, John Coleman Sr. of Rochdale Village; two stepbrothers, Melvin Jackson of Bryans Road, Md., and Troy Jackson of Rochdale Village, and his fiancee, Kilsi Ciprian of Rochdale Village. A memorial service will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Rochdale Village Community Center, 169-65 137th Ave., Rochdale Village.

-- Carl MacGowan (Newsday)