A 'Short-Timer' Is Among the Dead Heroes

Michael Warchola

By Ann L. Kim
STAFF WRITER; Jo Craven McGinty

September 19, 2001
Two shifts separated New York City Fire Lt. Michael Warchola from retirement and a trip to Australia when he sped to the World Trade Center last Tuesday with Ladder Co. 5.

The final 24-hour shift of his 24-year career would have ended yesterday, said his brother, Denis Warchola of Wading River. He might have spent today planning his overseas travels.

"Everyone knows he had only two tours left to do," Denis Warchola said yesterday. "He had all his papers in order, and he was set."

That was before hijackers steered two airliners into the World Trade Center's towers during Warchola's shift.

On Friday afternoon, Warchola's body was found in a stairwell of one of the crumbled towers along with a young woman he was apparently trying to rescue.

Around the fire house, Warchola, 51, was known for the postcards he sent back from his many travels through the country, Europe and Latin America.

"His buddies used to bust his chops because he always tried to find the funniest postcards for them," Denis Warchola said. "He had like a black sense of humor."

Warchola, who graduated from SUNY Buffalo in the early 1970s with an English degree, was also a history buff and avid novel reader.

He grew up in Middle Village, and still lived in his childhood home. He picked up his travel bug from his parents, who always put aside time for a family trip each year. And he got his sense of the ridiculous from the British tabloids his grandmother subscribed to when he was a boy.

"We used to read stuff that was worse than the National Enquirer," Denis Warchola said. "And we knew about the Beatles before anyone else here did."

Last week, when Denis Warchola visited his brother's fire house, the first story he heard was one describing how Michael had saved one more life in his final hours.

"When I introduced myself as Mike's brother, a man came over and said to me, 'I want to thank you. Your brother saved my son's life,'" he said.

The son is a rookie firefighter in the company. Though his shift ended at 9 a.m. Tuesday, he defied Warchola's orders to head home and snuck onto the fire truck.

When Warchola saw the rookie at the scene, "my brother went ballistic," Denis Warchola said. "He said, 'If I see you in there, I will make sure that after we put this fire out you do not have a job.' "

"I think my brother was worried about the kid's safety. It was bad enough the guys who were working had to go in there. This kid technically didn't have to go in."

Besides his brother, Warchola, who was divorced, is survived by his two children, Aaron, 19, and Amy, 16, of Walden, N.Y.; and his father, Michael Warchola of Southampton