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Glendale firefighters mourned at memorials

Hundreds of mourners crowded inside Redeemer Lutheran and hundreds more stood on the steps outside old a brisk October Saturday to say goodbye to Lt. Steven Bates of Engine Co. 235 at a memorial service.

Bates’ friends and fellow firefighters spilled over onto Cooper Avenue in Glendale, where two fire trucks suspended an enormous American flag high in the air.

Bates, 42, an 18-year veteran of the Fire Department, disappeared while trying to rescue tenants from the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

He was remembered by his colleagues in the FDNY and his friends as an unassuming man who loved his job and was good at it.

“He knew his job, he knew how to show other people his job and he knew how to make someone smile if they needed to,” said Lt. Kevin Calhoun, who worked with Bates at Engine Co. 235 in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

There were 25 funerals held Saturday for firefighters lost Sept. 11, so Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen were not able to attend each one. But Giuliani spoke at the beginning of Bates’ memorial service.

“I apologize if there are funerals that the fire commissioner and I cannot get to,” Giuliani said. “All these men deserve to know they are held in the highest respect by the citizens of this city.”

On Friday, Glendale mourned the loss of Patrick Waters, captain of special operations for the Fire Department. Thousands came to the Sacred Heart Church that day to pay their final respects to Waters, who is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 10 and 14.

Bates, who had no relatives, lived in Glendale with his longtime girlfriend, Joan Lana, and their two dogs, his fellow firefighters said.

“He lost his parents, so the Fire Department was his family,” Giuliani said.

The mayor said it would take the city a long time to absorb all the losses, but he emphasized the disaster would have been much worse without rescuers like Bates on the job.

He pointed out that “25,000 people made it out alive only because of men like Steven, who lost their lives in the rescue effort.”

Bates started his career with Engine Co. 214 and Ladder 111 in Bedford Stuyvesant. After nine years, he was transferred to Harlem’s Engine Co. 69, where he worked with Lt. Mike LaPorte.

“He was a very unassuming character who always let others take the stage,” LaPorte said. When Bates took the lieutenants exam, he placed 20th out of the 3,800 firefighters who sat for the exam, but Bates never would have mentioned this, LaPorte said.

LaPorte also spoke about Bates’ many nicknames, including Norman, Big Julie, Heavy B. and Mr. Happy, as well as the fireman’s passion for food.

“Norman loved to eat,” LaPorte said. “He was often known to say, ‘Butter makes it better.’” Many of the firefighters at the memorial service began to laugh heartily.

“In the morning, when he ate his pretzel role — with butter, of course — and with coffee before the caffeine wore off, he was Mr. Happy,” LaPorte said, and the firefighters continued to chuckle.

Bates would talk about meals as much as a week in advance and make suggestions to the other firefighters on what to cook, LaPorte said.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Bates was trying to get his fellow firefighters to eat some bagels, which must have been at least a week old, said Capt. John Bevacqua of Engine Co. 235.

“He left at 9:10 a.m., and that was the last time I saw him and the other guys,” Bevacqua said. The five other firefighters who went to the World Trade Center with Bates were still missing.

After a few years’ work in Harlem, Bates was transferred back to Brooklyn to Engine Co. 235. He was decorated with a citation for valor and was studying for the captain’s exam at the time of his death.

“The thing he loved the most was being a firefighter,” said Bob Evoline, who grew up with Bates in Glendale and remained his lifelong friend.

“In life you may have many friends, but you only have one true friend,” Evoline said. “And I have lost mine.”

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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