January 25, 2005 -- Eileen Bellew never wanted to be a firefighter's widow, splashed on the front page of a newspaper with people feeling sorry for her. After her husband left his job on Wall Street 10 years ago to join the FDNY, she made him swear he'd never get hurt.
"I made him promise me there would never be a picture of me on the front page . . . And he promised me that would never happen," she said.
Instead, the 35-year-old teacher found herself at the bedside of her dying hero husband on Sunday, clasping pictures of their four young children, begging him to make it through.
Veteran firefighter John Bellew, 37, had sustained fatal injuries after he leaped with five comrades from a burning building in The Bronx shortly after 8:30 a.m.
"When Eileen spoke to him, I noticed the monitor jump. He recognized her voice when she spoke about the kids," said Ladder 27's Lt. John Sullivan, also at Bellew's bedside in St. Barnabas Hospital.
"John was a fighter and he fought to the bitter end."
Now back at her home in suburban Pearl River, the new widow must explain to her children, Brielle, 6, Jack, 3, Katreana, 2, and Kieran, 5 months, that Daddy isn't coming home.
"They realize it," she said yesterday, but they still can't quite comprehend the meaning.
Jack asked if there was a phone in heaven and if his dad could ski on the clouds. Katreana said "Daddy's playing with God."
The kids worshiped their father, especially Jack, who wants to be a firefighter, too.
"I just feel guilty that I am going to be able to see them growing up and he is not going to be able to see any of it," said Eileen, fighting back tears. "I want them to remember him."
Eileen and Bellew met in the summer of 1993, at a party at the Brielle Yacht Club on the Jersey Shore. Both had gone home that night remembering the other's beautiful eyes.
They married two years later, by which time Bellew had already left his job at Brown Brothers Harriman to join the FDNY. His brother and cousins were firefighters and he had a calling, she said.
"When he got called for the FDNY I asked him not to take the job, and he postponed it and postponed it. But once he became a fireman, he was a totally different person, he was a happy, happy person," Eileen recalled.
"Every time he left, I would say, 'Be careful' and, 'Promise me you will return to me,' and he would promise - every single time he left."
At Ladder 27's firehouse, athletic, 6-foot-1 Bellew was known for his bravery. He had carried 10 people from perilous situations in the last year alone.
But yesterday, Eileen remembered her hero as a husband and father, describing how in 1999, they ran the New York Marathon together.
At the birth of each child, he brought a bottle of Moet White Star to her in the hospital. She saved the cork, along with the cork from a bottle of Dom Perignon they drank the night they got engaged at Myrtle Beach, S.C..
"My husband didn't have a side job like a lot of firemen," she said. "His side job was to play with his kids. He did everything for them."
Meanwhile, in Mattituck, L.I., the 85-year-old mother of Lt. Curtis Meyran - who died alongside Bellew - described how the fallen firefighter came to stay with her last Wednesday to help her put on a new screen door.
"He said he'd come back. He left all his tools," said Virginia Meyran, sobbing. "He said he'd come back."
Meyran, 46, became a lieutenant two years ago and hoped to take his test for captain next year.
He used the time in Mattituck last week to study, his mother said.
"He said, 'I'm determined to make it.' I said, 'God, I know you will,' but it wasn't meant to be."
The 15-year FDNY veteran - who gave up a contracting business to become a firefighter on the advice of his father-in-law - was honored twice for bravery, including for the rescue of two girls from a burning basement in Brooklyn.