Thomas Butler: Fire and Water

Thomas Butler liked to say that in a former life, he must have been a pirate. You could not keep him off the water.

His life basically was fire and water. He was a firefighter with Squad 1 in Brooklyn, and he had a part-time job as the bay constable in Smithtown, N.Y.

The bay constable job allowed him to be out on the water a lot, and he was entranced by water and its calming effect.

Not that he needed calming down. He was the epitome of the laid-back man. "He was my rock," said his wife, Martha. "We'd get bills and they would give me ulcers, and he'd say, 'Don't worry about it, the bills will be there tomorrow.' "

In some respects, he could be too laid back. "The grass could grow six feet, and it didn't bother him," Mrs. Butler said. "I'd try to get him to do it, and he'd say, 'The grass'll be there tomorrow.'"

Firefighter Butler, 37, lived in Kings Park, N.Y., with his wife and three children, Kelly, 4, Shawn, 6, and Patrick, 8 months.

Patrick was christened on Sept. 9, and Firefighter Butler wanted to have a big party. Mrs. Butler was getting her usual ulcers about the cost. He insisted. He wanted to buy a suit for the occasion. Her reaction was, "Tom, do you really need a suit?" He got the suit. They had the party.

"I'm so glad we did it," Mrs. Butler said, "because everyone was there and everyone got to see Tom that last time."