As the hours passed that Tuesday afternoon, Patty DeAngelis did not fear for her husband, Thomas.

She knew that as a New York City Fire Department battalion chief, he would be working at the World Trade Center disaster. She also knew him as a man who came to sound decisions under duress, a man who kept calm, a man who had made everything turn out right in their 18 years of marriage. But by 10 p.m., when he should have been home, her husband had not even called.

"I thought that he should probably have a break by now," said DeAngelis, 44. "Panic started to set in."

Two weeks after he left their Westbury home, Thomas DeAngelis, 51, remains among the missing in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York. "Things really get harder as the days go by," his wife said. They celebrated their anniversary on Sept. 3.

Now she clings to the memory of their last lunch together, the day before he vanished. He would soon leave for a 24-hour tour at his firehouse on East 51st Street in Manhattan. She had stopped home from her job in Garden City so they could spend a quiet hour alone.

They shared a salad and talked about the week ahead. He wouldn't be back in time for the PTA meeting at their daughter Nicole's school the next evening, so she would attend instead.

"I gave him a kiss and said, 'I'll see you Tuesday night. Be careful.' And that was it," Patty DeAngelis said.

Thomas DeAngelis was a chief in the 8th Battalion, overseeing Engine 8, Ladder 2. Nine men from his firehouse are missing. After 27 years on the job, his wife told him, he did not have to enter burning buildings himself. But he did, unwilling to subject his firefighters to danger that he would not face as well. He had always managed to stay safe.

He was a modest and humble man "with a twinkle in his eye" and a ready smile, Patty DeAngelis said. In the five years he had been a chief, firefighters under him appreciated his even temper. They called him "Chuckles."

DeAngelis, who grew up in Rockville Centre, spent hours at the gym to keep himself in shape. Skilled with his hands, he made everything from mozzarella cheese to furniture. He loved to sail, and the couple had planned to buy a boat next summer.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Nicole, 14, DeAngelis is survived by his mother, Maddalena Vallari, 79, of East Meadow; two children from a previous marriage, Christine Caputo, 30, of Massapequa and Thomas DeAngelis, 25, of Elmont; two sisters, Carol Jacques of West Hartford, Conn., and Donna Smollen of El Segundo, Calif.; and a 2-year-old granddaughter, Dana Caputo. He had another grandchild due to arrive in March.

Patty DeAngelis said she believes that her husband was an angel assigned to this planet, and that he was called back on Sept. 11 once he had finished his work here. She is comforted by the inspiration he brought to the people he loved.

"Many people right now are still hoping for what would have to be a miracle," his wife said. "I just want to say that we've had our miracle in our life, and it was Tommy. And that's just something that gives me strength."