When Michael Edward Roberts was just 4, his father took him to a firehouse and sat him on a rig parked there. That's all it took. From that moment on, life was a countdown to the Fire Academy. He took time to get a degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo, but "he knew without a doubt what he was going to do," said his father, Thomas Roberts, a retired New York City fire captain. "He'd say the only decision he needed to make was whether to grow up, or become a firefighter."
Finally, in February 1998, Michael Edward Roberts was formally admitted to the academy. He ended up at Ladder Company 35 near Lincoln Center. "He was so happy," said his sister, Lisa.
Firefighter Roberts continued to live in Pearl River, N.Y., where he grew up and where he mastered tournament darts for a local team. In the firehouse he listened to other people so intently that he came to be known as "the psychologist."
At his memorial service in November, Firefighter Roberts's family finally met the family of another Michael Edward Roberts, a firefighter with Engine Company 214 in Brooklyn. They exchanged greetings and politely commiserated about the confusion caused by their identical names and backgrounds, both 31, both sons of firefighters.
Then the families brought together by grief went their separate ways, one to Breezy Point, one to Pearl River. And Captain Roberts brought back his son's badge and put it in a frame in the living room.
It is badge No. 13392.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 22, 2001.