Kenneth Kumpel: Fixing Up the House

Raised by his mother and grandmother, Kenneth Kumpel, 42, spent much of his adulthood filling in the gaps left by an absentee father. He was a self- taught handyman and craftsman around the house; an endlessly patient, delighted father of Gregory, 11, and Carl, 9; a buddy who sought, through work, the camaraderie of other guys, first as a New York City police officer and then, more happily, as a firefighter.

Because firefighters can have a few days off between shifts, Firefighter Kumpel, a steady, warm presence, had time for his sons. He cooked, cleaned, coached, volunteered and endlessly fixed up their house in Cornwall, N.Y., perfecting his stained-glass windows, tiling and floors.

That was his castle, his home. But the firehouse