He met the woman of his dreams and found his calling on a fire truck working in one of life's most dangerous professions. Toss in a bachelor's degree from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill and a master's from Iona College in New Rochelle, and you're looking at a fairly admirable list of accomplishments for a 30-year-old, says Orangetown Police Officer Mike McPadden of his kid brother, Robert. Never mind that he rarely answered a question incorrectly while playing along with the television quiz show, "Jeopardy!"

Robert McPadden, a Pearl River resident, is among the hundreds of New York City firefighters that died in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. "Bob only lived 30 years, but he was able to accomplish more in those 30 years than most men accomplish in their entire lives," said McPadden, 33. "It's not so much closure as we feel we need to do something for Bob," McPadden said. "He died doing a job he believed in. That's what makes me happy."

"He was definitely my soulmate," said Robert McPadden's wife, Kate. "It was love at first sight." She added, "He loved his family and he loved his job."

McPadden recalled traveling one day after the attack to meet his brother's co-workers at Engine 23 in Manhattan. He was approached by a doorman who worked next door and had gotten to know Robert McPadden while the two played pickup games of basketball. "He came up to me to say he was sorry," McPadden said. "It appeared that he had been crying. He knew my brother by his first name. He was genuinely upset that my brother was gone. It meant a lot to me."

On the evening of Sept. 11, McPadden phoned the FDNY for information about his brother, who, along with his stationhouse colleagues, was one of the first to arrive at the World Trade Center. A firefighter who, his brother said, worked "by the book," Robert McPadden was unlikely to phone relatives during his shifts, even in the event of a tragic terrorist attack.

"We hadn't heard from him all day," McPadden said. "But we didn't expect to." After failing to learn anything over the telephone, McPadden on the evening of the attack headed into Manhattan with his sister, Cathy, to check the hospitals. Having no luck, McPadden the next morning asked a fellow Orangetown cop to drive him back to the city, where he confronted Ground Zero. "The enormity of it hit me there," said McPadden, whose mother, Judy, was proud Robert had become a firefighter like his father had been. "Just standing there, at that point, I knew it was best to be with my mother and my sisters.

There were two Ground Zeros. One in the city and one here in Pearl River." Since then, there have been constant phone calls to the FDNY, and a meeting with fire officials and other families in the city. And personal remembrances. McPadden said one picture of his brother he would forever cherish was of the FDNY Division of Training's family day, when the entire McPadden clan watched the youngest member rappel off a building as part of a demonstration. "To see him that day, you knew he was a man," McPadden said. "He had a sense of duty and responsibility. You just knew that he had found what he loved to do. And he loved being a fireman."