His Jokes Masked a Passion for His Job

January 22, 2002

Michael J. Lyons was always a funny guy who could win people over with his personality.

His wife remembers how in high school Lyons was always playing jokes at his job in a delicatessen in Yonkers. Lyons would sometimes glue a quarter to the floor and watch customers struggle to pick it up, or fill co-worker's shoes with corned beef fat, Elaine Lyons said.

That was 1985. The two started dating a year later and were married in 1997.

Joe Beltrani remembers when he first met Lyons about two years ago. Lyons, a New York City firefighter, wanted to gain a transfer to work in Squad 41 in the Bronx, where Beltrani worked.

"He would always call the firehouse and say, 'Hey, bro,' to whoever answered," Beltrani said.

The problem with that approach was a "hard as nails" lieutenant who didn't like being called "bro," Beltrani said. But Lyons' passion and genuine kindness won the tough lieutenant over. He continued calling him 'bro' and was accepted to join the elite firehouse.

At the firehouse, Lyons was "a clown, a character, always had a joke," Beltrani said. "Mike was just so full of emotion."

Squad 41 responded to the burning Twin Towers on Sept. 11. Lyons, who was 32 and lived in upstate Hawthorne, was killed. His body has not been recovered.

On Nov. 2, Lyon's wife gave birth to the couple's second daughter and named her Mary Michael. Lyons' first daughter, Caitlyn, is 18 months old.

"He was a great father, a wonderful father," his wife said.

Despite Lyons' hectic work schedule - holding two jobs was the norm - he would come home from work and play with, change and feed his daughter. "I was very lucky," his wife said.

Raised in Yonkers as one of four brothers in a proud Irish-American family, Lyons graduated from Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx in 1987 and Manhattan College in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Lyons took the firefighters' exam out of high school because "he always wanted to be a fireman, "his wife said. While waiting to be called by the department, Lyons held several jobs, including inspecting buildings for the fire department and selling hot dogs from a truck.

Lyons' first job was with Engine Co. 44 on the Upper East Side. He worked there for 5 1/2 years before switching to Squad 41.

More recently, Lyons worked part- time as an engineer in his time off from the department and managed to buy a small house in Hawthorne - where his wife grew up - in September 2000. He joined the volunteer fire department there and would often rush out to answer an alarm late at night. "He always said 'I'll be back in five minutes,'" his wife said.

Before last summer, Lyons quit the engineering job to spend more time with his wife and daughter. But he didn't stop working - he drove an ice cream truck.

He was always the adult at family gatherings who would end up spending hours with the children, and the job suited him perfectly.

"He'd tell me he'd love to see the kids' faces when they came to the truck," his wife said. "He was a big kid himself."

-- Steven Kreytak (Newsday)