Flushing firefighter remembered at service

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More than a thousand people gathered in a Flushing church Sunday to laugh and cry at a service for Firefighter Michael Cawley, who was remembered for his love of the Fire Department and the family and friends he stayed in touch with by phone at all hours of the day.

Cawley, 32, who spent the last six years working for Elmhurst-based Ladder Co. 136, was at the end of his work shift when he jumped on a Rescue 4 truck bound for the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11. None of the firefighters on that rig returned from the job.

Capt. James McNally said an Engine Co. 136 truck responded to the trade center disaster as well, but the firefighters returned to Queens relieved they had not left anyone behind. Then they heard Cawley had responded with Rescue 4 and was missing.

“The firehouse will never be the same without him,” McNally said.

Cawley was extremely enthusiastic about the Fire Department, which was evident in his off-duty attire. He never wore a T-shirt, sweatshirt or hat that did not have the letters “FDNY” on it, McNally said.

“For Michael, being a firefighter was a lifelong dream come true,” McNally said. “Even as a child, he was destined to be a firefighter, he was destined to be a hero.”

Not only was Cawley the engine company’s “logo boy,” he was always looking for a fire to fight and was disappointed when he missed one.

“I’d often joke with Michael about the fires that he missed, exaggerating the details,” McNally said, as members of the audience laughed. “This would upset him greatly. But this will never happen again. He will be with us on Ladder 136 in every fire we respond to.”

Other speakers at the mass included Cawley’s family members, fellow firefighters and representatives of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki.

Brendan Cawley read something he found in his brother’s wallet after his death. The verse, which sounded like both prayer and a poem, brought Brendan Cawley to tears.

“Every time I think of Mike, I think of him as the greatest gift that has ever been given,” he said.

Their father, Jack Cawley, thanked his family and friends, but most of all the Fire Department, for their frequent visits, flowers and other gifts.

“Without your strong support, it is hard to imagine how we would have survived without our Michael,” he said, “and I would like to thank Alexander Graham Bell for inventing the telephone, because without it, I don’t know how Michael would have survived.”

Many people in the audience laughed since Michael Cawley was know for his numerous telephone calls.

Fellow firefighter, Thomas Napolatano, recalled he had left his cell phone with Cawley during a family trip to Disney Land, only to find that Cawley had made countless calls to the Hamptons, the firehouse, and his family.

Cawley was also known for his familiarity with the captains in the department.

“He was the only one who could get away with calling them by their first names,” Napolatano said.

Scott Cowan said Cawley was nicknamed “Chief Mike” because he was always sitting with the chiefs at department functions.

Firefighter Paul Archer said he would remember Cawley’s “big blue eyes and his big head.” The audience once again erupted in laughter.

Michael Cawley grew up in Flushing and attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood. John Klein still remembers reading the letter 13-year-old Michael wrote when he sought admission to the school.

“Molloy already meant so much to him,” Klein said of the 13-year-old, whose older cousins had attended the school before him. “He put his heart and soul into that letter.”

In his letter, Cawley promised to work hard, do his best and never let them down, Klein said.

“Those were the three promises he kept through his life,” Klein said. “Michael showed us how to live and he showed us how to die.”

Klein spoke about Cawley’s dedication and devotion to his family, his friends, his high school and the Fire Department.

“Michael translated into reality what expression ‘New York’s Bravest’ really means,” Klein said.

David McNamara met Cawley at Molloy his freshman year and the two became fast friends.

“No one ever had such a contagious laugh,” McNamara said of his best friend, “no one ever called me as much, no one every was so quick to laugh when you tripped and no one was ever so quick to catch you when you would fall.”

Cawley’s dream was to be a hero and to have all his loved ones gathered around him, McNamara said.

“Mike will always be a hero,” McNamara said, “and guess what, Mike? We’re all here.”

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

Updated 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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