Robert McPadden liked to be tested. He did not wait to see if he could withstand challenges — he sought them out.
He liked comparing his personal favorites to the critics' Top 10 lists. He was so good at "Jeopardy!" that other firefighters thought he was watching reruns of shows he had seen. He was confident enough to marry a woman almost as tall as he and as much of an athlete: when Kate and Bob McPadden played one-on-one basketball, he won the scrambles, she beat him on the foul line.
Could he best his late father, a New York fire lieutenant? For years, he waited to be accepted into the department and dreamed of making captain.
Confident, yes; attitude, no: Although Firefighter McPadden, 30, had a master's degree in criminal justice, as a new member of the crew he happily peeled potatoes, washed dishes and led schoolchildren around Engine Company 23 in Manhattan, saying: "Hi! I'm Fireman Bob!"
Last summer was truly his championship season. He hit the tying run that helped Engine Company 38 win the Bronx title. His young marriage glowed. Kate and he were a day away from moving to Pearl River, N.Y., near his mother and siblings. So excited was Firefighter McPadden about life that he would shout, "We won, Kate, we won!"
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on January 22, 2002.