Firefighting Was 'All He Ever Talked About'

By Katie Thomas

February 19, 2002

Bud Kiefer doesn't know exactly how it started.

It may have begun when Michael was 3. On weekends while his wife worked, Kiefer kept his son entertained by taking him to the local firehouse.

"Maybe that stuck," he mused recently. "I think it's just something that's in you, it's just part of your makeup. This was all he ever talked about."

Whatever the origin, Michael Kiefer was crazy about firefighting. Growing up, the boy would set up imaginary fire scenes on his Franklin Square block, enlisting his younger sister, Lauren, as his probationary firefighter. He drew "FDNY" on all his schoolbooks and read firefighting manuals for fun.

When he was old enough to ride a bike, Michael would chase fires he heard about over a police scanner. At least once, a police officer had to escort him home when a fire took the boy into a rough neighborhood.

In his teens, he joined the Franklin Square junior firefighters organization and quickly became its chief. But the quiet neighborhood didn't satisfy his craving for adventure, his father said. He joined the Malverne association, and then - still in search of action - joined the Freeport volunteer firefighters. He later switched to the Hempstead department.

Kiefer's devotion to firefighting was nearly matched by his interest in religion, his parents said. Even as a teenager, Kiefer attended Mass with his mother every Saturday and served as a eucharistic minister at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Franklin Square.

One of the priests there likes to tell a story about him, his mother said. "One of the priests had known how religious he was," she recalled. "So he said, 'Did you ever think of becoming a priest?'"

Though his mother said he had briefly considered the clergy, his response was firm. "You save the souls," he told the priest. "I'll save the bodies."

After graduating from St. Mary's High School in Manhasset in 1994, Kiefer joined the fire cadet program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which ended in a job with theNewYork City Fire Department as a paramedic.

Kiefer's dream was now within reach. After working as a paramedic for about a year and a half, he took the promotional exam to become a firefighter.

"By this time, he's been studying all his life," his father said. "Every book he had in his bedroom has something to do with the fire department."

Kiefer scored 100 percent on both the physical and written exams. In December 2000, Kiefer became a "probie," or probationary firefighter, and joined the Engine Co. 280/Ladder Co. 132 firehouse in Crown Heights. It was a dream assignment, his father said. "He knew he wanted to go to Brooklyn. That was where all the action was."

As Kiefer headed toward the burning World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, many pieces of his life were coming together. His family, which also includes a younger sister, Kerri, had no doubt that Kiefer, 25, of Franklin Square, planned to marry his girlfriend, Jamie Huggler.

"He finally met the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with," said his mother, Pat Kiefer. "I guess he was saving for a ring."