It was Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9, and the game was scoreless with just minutes left to play. Suddenly Sergio Villanueva sped down the field, whacked the ball with his foot, and goal! The Fire Department won, 1-0.
A native of Argentina, Firefighter Villanueva, 33, loved soccer. Tanya Villanueva, his fiancée, used to have to put on a special hat with bells dangling from it, as well as a jersey from an Argentine team, and run through the house shouting, "Goal!" when an important match was on television. "He was a huge soccer fan," she said.
He also enjoyed a fine cigar and knew his red wines, and around Ladder Company 132 in Brooklyn, he made a name for himself in the kitchen. While "firehouse cuisine" can be an oxymoron, when it was Firefighter Villanueva's turn at the stove, his company feasted on pasta, chicken and other Italian dishes. As a child, he had learned to cook at his father's restaurant, Piccolo San Marino in Bayside, and remembered the recipes (along with the words to all of Barry Manilow's songs) all his life.
Before becoming a firefighter, he spent eight years as a police officer, battling robbers and drug dealers. One of his partners in the Bronx precinct where he started out thought of him as the consummate transplanted New Yorker. "He loved New York, loved his country, loved Queens," said Lt. Rick Miller, "and he would go hoarse for three days after an Argentine soccer game."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on January 29, 2002.