Thomas Cullen: True to His Calling

In the weeks before his death, as a member of Squad 41 in the Bronx, Thomas Cullen, 31, studied for the Fire Department's lieutenant's exam. But even without a test ahead of him, his wife, Susan, said, his idea of pleasure reading was an abstruse volume about confined rescue or some other technical aspect of firefighting. If he worked in a kind of building he was unfamiliar with, he would read up on its structural peculiarities.

The couple met in 1992 at Fordham University, where Tom Cullen took the fire- fighters test and the law boards as a senior. He came from a family of lawyers, but "fire was his true love," Mrs. Cullen said. He made perfect scores on the exam, she said, but then had to wait four years for an opening, "buying time" as a CPR instructor and a dean of discipline at a public school.

Firefighter Cullen's 2-year-old son, Tom, shares the passion and already can distinguish one kind of truck from another. Father and son also shared a love of electric trains. Many nights, after the toddler went to sleep, his father would add a new twist or turn to the tracks on the living room floor. Mrs. Cullen continues the tradition, but with less panache. "Lucky for me he's not picky," she said.