BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Who could forget the enormous propane blast, two days after Christmas in 1983?
The explosion of a 500-pound illegal propane tank, and the resulting inferno, left a scar on Division Street in Buffalo and a hole in the Catanzaro family.
Now, almost 30 years after Buffalo Firefighter Michael "Mickey" Catanzaro died in that explosion, his youngest son is beginning his own career with the department.
As a child, Nick Catanzaro always dreamed of becoming a firefighter, so that he could save lives.
He's now taking the first step in fulfilling that dream. He's one of 43 new recruits who were sworn in to the Buffalo Fire Department on Saturday.
"The fact that the City of Buffalo has put their trust in me, to save other people's lives, means a lot to me," Catanzaro told reporters. "And I hope that it means a lot to my family, too."
It does -- for a very deep and personal reason.
Nick's father, Michael Catanzaro was on Ladder 5, the night of the 1983 Division Street blast. Catanzaro and all four of his brothers on Ladder 5 died in the explosion -- the worst loss of life in the Buffalo Fire Department's history.
Nick was only nine months old at the time. He grew up never knowing his dad.
"He's going into this with his eyes wide open, more so than any other recruit here," said Buffalo Fire Commissioner, Garnell Whitfield. "His father gave the ultimate sacrifice. He died in the line of duty, in service to this community. But for his loved ones, to follow in his footsteps, is-- [it] just shows you how much of a family this is."
Nick credits his mother with giving him the courage to join the brotherhood.
"I feel that God gave me a great mother as one parent, better than most people's two parents. So I feel like I was gifted with a great mother, even though I lost my father," Catanzaro said.
Mrs. Catanzaro was moved to tears, as she watched Nick take the oath.
"I know that, for years, that one of her sons -- or more -- would be able to join the Buffalo Fire Department. So, for their family, it's bittersweet day, but a very proud day," declared Mayor Byron Brown.
"They're tough shoes to fill. I'm going to do everything in my power to fill those shoes," Nick smiled.
Had his father been there, Nick knows, he would've gotten a little tough love.
"I would ask him what to do in the academy. And I would hope that he would be really hard on me," he laughed. "'Cause I know that's how he was."
The reality that he is living out his father's legacy, still hasn't quite sunk in.
"I'm overwhelmed. I know my dad's up there, watching out [for] me, taking care of me. So all I want to do is make him proud."
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