Stephen E. Belson: Free Spirit
Found a Calling
E. Belson, 51, had different nicknames from different
stages of his life. At Rockaway Beach, where he worked
after college as a lifeguard, he was known as Bells. But
at the fire station on West 31st Street in Manhattan
where he spent most of his career as a firefighter, he
was given the title "Mr. Ladder 24."
"He was our ambassador, so to speak," said John
Montani, another firefighter in Ladder Company 24.
Firefighter Belson attended all the functions, was always
available for holiday duty and could back a fire engine
into a station in five seconds flat. His last job was as
a driver for one of the battalion chiefs, Orio J. Palmer.
Both rushed to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11;
Before he joined the department, Firefighter Belson
was something of a beach bum, a surfer, a devotee of the
Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna, or as one friend said, a free
spirit. Then, one day, he and his lifeguard buddies
decided to get real jobs. "We took the Fire Department
tests on a lark, and found a calling," said John Maguire,
who is now chief of Battalion 54.
Firefighter Belson who grew up in Flushing, Queens,
moved to Rockaway Beach, bought a house and fit right
into the tightknit community of firefighters and police
officers. Unlike many of his neighbors, he wasn't Irish
or Roman Catholic. But that made no difference. "While he
was Jewish, he was considered one of them," said his
mother, Madeline Brandstadter. "They even named a beach
after him: Bells's Beach."