When Sean Connors lost his helmet battling Monday's raging wildfire, the Mastic Fire Department volunteer lost cherished keepsakes from his mother, too.
Connors, 25, had paid tribute to his deceased mom by adorning his helmet with her name and a cross -- and packing mementos inside.
Flames had turned everything Connors had stuffed in the lining to ash, including three emotional letters penned by his mother, Denise, in her final months and more than 15 pictures of her and the family.
But most of the cross and part of her name survived the inferno.
"I almost cried when I saw the letters were gone, but at least the helmet made it," he said. "I was always a mama's boy, and I don't have much to remember her by. Finding it meant a lot."
The helmet tumbled to the ground as Connors and other volunteer firefighters tackled the fast-moving blaze around 2:30 p.m. Monday.
The Mastic resident and six-year department veteran said the notes from his mother, a nurse who was 50 when she died of lung cancer in January 2008, were heartfelt and reassuring.
"Whatever you do, always be safe," she wrote in one of them. "I'm with you. I'm watching over you. I'm proud of you."
Fellow Mastic firefighters Chris Flaherty, David Quesada and Herbert Smalls joined Connors in the 45-minute search for the lost helmet.
"The fact that he found this charred black thing in a forest of charred black things is miraculous," Flaherty said.
Connors, who manages a tile design company, said he plans to display the helmet in a trophy case at home as a tribute to his mom.
"I'm really glad I still have it," he said.