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Firefighter David Lee spends his days waiting for disaster

(EDITORS: This is part of the "Faces of War" series by Detroit Free Press artist Rich Johnson and writer Jeff Seidel.)

By Jeff Seidel

Name: David Lee

Age: 26

Rank: E4

Service: Navy

Home town: Bayside, N.Y.

Job title: Crash and salvage crewman

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ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN—David Lee sits and waits, hoping he never has to go to work.

Lee is a crash and salvage crewman aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, which means, basically, that he's a fireman.

"I just wanted to be in a position to save lives, in case something happens," says Lee, 26, of Bayside, N.Y. "We are always ready for it. If it happens, it happens."

He wears a bulky, silver, fireproof suit that makes him look like the Michelin Man wrapped in tinfoil. It took several days for him to get used to wearing the outfit while baking in the sunshine on the flight deck.

"It's been pretty cloudy the last couple of days, so it hasn't been too bad," Lee says. "When we first pulled into the Gulf, it was really hot. Now, we are used to it. We've been wearing (the suit) for six or seven months straight. At first, it's really hot and annoying, but you get used to it."

Lee sits on a two-person vehicle that looks like a golf cart that was converted into a mini fire engine. It is filled with foam and has a nozzle, similar to the ones used by fire departments.

And like most firefighters, he spends his day waiting for disaster.

"If an aircraft comes in with some hydraulic failure, we have to get up and do some stuff," he says. "But that's about it."

During his off time, he studies or watches television.

He joined the Navy to get out of New York for a while, but he finds the energy and activity around the flight deck similar to that of the Big Apple.

"It's always busy, always something going on, just like New York. There are people all around, except they aren't in business suits."

After talking about home, he started to realize some of the things he misses.

"I miss Greek food and mom's home cooking," Lee says. "The bars. Everything that goes with the bars: the girls. ..."

And he misses his 1991 BMW. He hasn't driven a car in eight months. "I get to drive this thing every once in a while," he says, patting the miniature fire truck. "But I miss driving."

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(Seidel reports for the Detroit Free Press.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATIONS (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): faces+lee

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