Holder of Heirloom
6611. That was the number of Firefighter Robert Roberts's badge. When he left the job, the badge was assigned to his brother, John. When Firefighter John Roberts left the job, No. 6611 was passed on again, this time to John Roberts's son, Michael Edward.
No. 6611 was a Roberts family heirloom by then, but Michael Edward Roberts had a habit of misplacing things. So his mother, Veronica, urged him to think about putting the badge in a vault and getting "one of those fake ones" for everyday use.
She need not have worried. In nearly four years as a firefighter, Michael Edward Roberts never lost track of that badge. He was as conscientious a recruit as Lt. Michael Bell, an officer of Engine Company 214 in Brooklyn, had ever seen.
Although Firefighter Roberts had transferred there only in March, Lieutenant Bell said, "We could tell he was going to be a star."
Being a fireman was the center of his life, but Firefighter Roberts, 31, was more than that, said his uncle, Assistant Police Chief Joseph Fox. "He had a way of popping into and out of people's lives," Chief Fox said. At times it seemed he was in two places at once because there was another firefighter — same name, same age, same background. The only time their families met was at their funerals.
Firefighter Roberts routinely volunteered to work holidays for colleagues at the firehouse who had families. And he watched out for his younger sister, Karen, always pushing her to finish college.
She will. Next month.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 22, 2001.