Battalion Chief Led Kids in Fun

December 19, 2001

At breakfast time, Orio Palmer would pop in a Rascals CD and do goony dances around his Valley Stream kitchen singing "It's a Beautiful Morning." The kids laughed, and called him the Music Man.

The New York City fire battalion chief, who'd had it tough growing up in the Bronx, would take the neighborhood kids out fishing on days off, just because he'd never gotten to do that himself as a boy.

He was determined to teach all the kids stickball, too, an almost-lost art he mastered at their age.

And when he and his wife, Debbie, were invited to a Halloween toga party, a white sheet wasn't enough for Palmer: He had to wear a pink one, put high heels onto his sandals and arrive as the "Boy Toy From Troy."

On their refrigerator, Debbie Palmer still keeps the saying her husband taped there before he led the men of his Manhattan battalion to the World Trade Center Sept. 11: "Live while you're alive."

Sixteen members of Battalion 7 were lost along with Palmer, 45, whose remains have not yet been recovered from the trade center rubble. He was remembered Oct. 13 in a ceremony at Holy Name of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Valley Stream, the community where the couple have lived for 15 years and raised their three children, Dana, 14, Keith, 12, and Alyssa, 9.

A graduate of Cardinal Spellman High School and Westchester Community College, Palmer joined the fire department 20 years ago at Engine Co. 46 in the Bronx. He transferred to firehouses in Brooklyn and Queens as he worked his way up the promotional ladder before landing with Battalion 7 on West 19th Street in Manhattan. That battalion protects the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station.

Palmer became known to hundreds of co-workers over the past years as an instructor for firefighters studying for promotional exams. He also used his teaching skills to write articles for the fire department newspaper on safety topics such as the dangers of buildings with separate up and down "scissor" staircases, and ways to communicate in tunnels and buildings when radios fail.

Palmer's community has been tending his family since the attacks. Total strangers have sent cards and letters of support, and neighbors continue to drop off meals and groceries. The mail carrier left bagels on the doorstep, and tradespeople call asking if there's anything they can fix. At school, teachers and guidance counselors have taken the kids under their wing. Even the sanitation crews have been carrying the family garbage cans up the driveway and leaving them neatly by the side of the house.

"They just want to do any little thing," his wife said. "What I've learned is that there is a lot more good in the world than bad."

-- Elizabeth Moore (Newsday)