New York Fire Department, Rescue 3, Battalion SPecial Operations Command. Is survived by his wife, Joanne, and two children, Lauren and Kaitlynn

When Ray Meisenheimer and his buddy Gerald Murtha, both fire chief's sons, were teenagers fooling around on the motorized racing team in East Farmingdale 30 years ago, there was always a sense of purpose to their friendship. Meisenheimer, 46, was the first in that volunteer fire department to become a paramedic and teach EMT courses, Murtha recalled. When the two joined the city Fire Department, Murtha's dad helped Meisenheimer join his tough firehouse, Engine Co. 222 in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Meisenheimer followed Murtha to the elite Rescue 3 Co. in the Bronx, where Murtha is a lieutenant. The two got jobs teaching at the Suffolk Fire Academy in Yaphank, where Meisenheimer would wind up in charge of curriculum. "It was work, family, work, family, work, family with Ray," Murtha said. "He was my boss in Suffolk County, and I was his boss in the firehouse, so we got along good that way."

Friday, Murtha gave the eulogy at a memorial service in West Babylon for his lifelong friend, a skilled rescue expert who would be leading the search on the pile at the World Trade Center today if he were not lost somewhere inside of it.

Meisenheimer was a leader in state and local efforts to plan for events like the Sept. 11 attack, and he was on a federal search and rescue team that has been working at the site. He was a leading authority on technical rescue problems like trench collapses, said Donald Gackenheimer, deputy director of the fire academy and a good friend. "Ray knew how to look at things and knew when something was wrong" with a structure, Gackenheimer said. "If a building did collapse, he was one of the guys you'd want there because he would figure a way to get in there and get anybody out."

The Central Islip resident was a captain in the Hauppauge Fire Department and guided its technical rescue program, said chief Louis Zara. A father of two girls, Kaitlyn and Lauren, Meisenheimer also led a stubborn but fruitless effort to bring a charter school to his community.

Meisenheimer was to retire from Rescue 3 by year's end, and the family looked forward to his being home at last on evenings, weekends and holidays, said his wife, Joanne. They had been planning a dream home together in Holtsville, with cathedral ceilings and arched windows and a built-in display case for his fire truck collection. The house is nearly finished. "Life was going to be good," she said. "He didn't want for much; he was very happy just being home with his girls, and with me. And we with him."