Michael Montesi was nuts about machines.

As a young volunteer fireman in New Hyde Park, he competed with the championship Termites racing team and poured his heart and wallet into a series of red Camaros.

"He used to clean the air vents with a Q-tip," lifelong friend Richard Husch remembered with a laugh. "He was a detail freak - everything was precision."

That perfectionism led the 13-year firefighter through a series of Manhattan engine and ladder companies to the elite Rescue 1, where Montesi thrived on the technical challenges of torches, steel cutters and other specialized tools.

He was so happy as a rescue firefighter that he just giggled when the two friends talked about an upcoming lieutenant's test.

"He said, 'I am really enjoying what I'm doing now,'" Husch remembered. "He had no intention of retiring - he lived and breathed Rescue 1."

Montesi's remains were found Sept. 29 in the World Trade Center's north tower, on the same day as a memorial service in Highland Mills, N.Y., where the 39-year-old firefighter lived with his wife, Nancy, and their sons, Matthew, 7, Ian, 5, and Ryan, 3.

Those who eulogized Montesi that day all remembered his striving for excellence and the way that lifted and energized those around him.

"When you were with Mike, you knew you were a) safe, b) doing things the right way and c) going to have the expected outcome," said Husch, now a Nassau police paramedic, for whom that quality got him through a crisis in 1990 when he was Montesi's volunteer captain.

Husch had been badly burned on his back, arm and shoulder during a training accident, and had undergone a painful yearlong recovery. When they went back to train at the burn building the next year, "I was fearful. I didn't want to go in."

Montesi prodded his friend gently with a few unprintable words. "He said, 'What are you going to do, stand out here ... all day? Come on, let's go.'"

"And I went, because I trusted him." - Elizabeth Moore Rescue 1 Squad, Manhattan. Son of George and Mickey Montesi and formerly of New Hyde Park.

Montesi graduated from New Hyde Park High School in 1980 and was a member of Hook and Ladder New Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Department. Became a NYC firefighter in 1988.

Married Nancy Dineen in 1993, and they have three sons, Matthew, Ian and Ryan.