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Middle Village native son wins ‘Survivor’ reality show

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Tom Westman, a 20-year veteran of the New York Fire Department who was raised and educated in Queens, became the oldest "Survivor" to capture the $1 million reward after beating out 19 other contestants during the CBS show's 39-day competition, which premiered Feb. 17 from the tropical Pacific island."I'm still trying to wrap my brain around winning a million dollars," said the 41-year-old firefighter, who spoke on a cell phone while en route to one of many press conferences.Although Westman lives in Sayville, L.I., and fights fires in Brooklyn, the Middle Village native said he credits much of his development to the faculty at Briarwood's Archbishop Molloy High School, where he was a track star who held the pole vault record for 20 years. Westman then went on to earn a degree in 1989 at Queens College in Kew Gardens Hills.Westman's training with the FDNY also helped with adapting to the physical and emotional strain of grueling competition, meager meals and lack of sleep, he said."It made me reach a little deeper than other people," Westman said. "I would just lick my wounds and pick up from there."Determined to maintain a straight-laced performance that avoided any backstabbing or lies, Westman said his winning strategy centered around an oak-strong alliance he formed the first day with two other contestants that lasted until the finals.The toughest part of the experience, according to Westman, was being away from his wife, Bernadette, and three young children, Meghan, 9, Declan, 7, and Conor, 5, who no doubt now hold their father in even higher esteem.Despite his new-found wealth and celebrity status, Westman said he was returning to work as usual at Brooklyn's Ladder 108 next week."So when the call of a fire comes over the box, I'll be right there on the truck," he said. He did admit, however, that "At this point, it makes a lot of sense to take my pension."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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