Joseph Grzelak: Firefighting With Research

Around the firehouse, they called him Joe Knows.

The chief of Battalion 48 in Brooklyn, Joseph Grzelak had been fighting fires for 28 years and memorizing trivia for even longer. During slow shifts he could be found at his computer, researching everything from home repair to bowling strategies. He was a history buff who read two newspapers a day, breezed through crossword puzzles and answered all manner of arcane questions for friends and colleagues (hence the nickname).

"We encouraged him to try out for 'Jeopardy,'" Chief Grzelak's wife, Joanne, said. "He'd watch it, and most of the time he was right on the money."

Chief Grzelak, 52, had a mathematical mind that benefited the men he supervised. "He was very rational about fighting fires," Mrs. Grzelak said. "When the younger guys would ask him how to approach a certain situation, he always came up with the best advice."

When he raced to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, Chief Grzelak took a binder full of research he had compiled over the years about fighting high-rise fires. It was found, Mrs. Grzelak said, in his crushed car.