May 02. 2003 7:18AM

First 9-11, then city's current budget woes

Bronislaus B. Kush

WORCESTER- On Dec. 29, 2001, 17 young men proudly received their silver badges and were sworn to duty as the newest members of the Worcester Fire Department.

Looking smart in their pressed uniforms, they accepted hearty hugs and well wishes from family, friends and firefighters who packed the graduation ceremony at the old St. Vincent Hospital facility on Vernon Hill.

Nathan Schirner was among the group of graduate recruits who shared the spotlight that special day.

But unlike his classmates, Mr. Schirner never got the chance to ride a firetruck.

About a third of the way through his training, Mr. Schirner, who served in the Marine Corps from 1993 to 1999, was called to National Guard duty in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I did have mixed feelings during that graduation ceremony," said Mr. Schirner, now 28. "I really wanted to be a firefighter but that was put on hold because I had another job to do."

The Fire Department, however, didn't forget Mr. Schirner and, when the next opportunity arose, enrolled him at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow.

This afternoon, he graduates from that program with about 40 other recruits from across the state.

But, once again, the commencement exercises will be bittersweet.

After two weeks of vacation, Mr. Schirner will be laid off because of the city's budget woes, uncertain when he'll get the chance to roll out of a Worcester firehouse on a city firetruck.

"A lot of things are still up in the air, but I do know I'm going to be a firefighter," said Mr. Schirner, who lives at 7 Maravista Ave. with his wife, Tina. "I'm not going to give up on that dream and I'm going to be overjoyed at the graduation ceremony in Stow."

Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio said Mr. Schirner was "a great guy" and said the department didn't want to lose him.
photo of Nathan