William End wanted to become a firefighter because of friendship.
Sunday he got his wish -- but the swearing-in took place in a hospital bed where he lay recovering from a crash that killed one of his good friends in the department.
End barely had the strength to lift his new Amityville Fire Department badge, and he choked back tears when asked about the accident. His department colleague and friend, Zachary Bernstein, 23, was killed while driving a Volkswagen Jetta that slammed into a tree on Sweet Hollow Road in West Hills at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, police said.
Four people, including End, were injured in the crash on the winding one-lane road by West Hills County Park. Three were Amityville firefighters.
Bernstein, of Massapequa, died at the scene. End, 22, of Amityville, suffered a torn aortic artery, broken ribs and a bruised lung, police said.
End said he was happy to be installed as a firefighter -- but happier to be alive.
"I'm lucky enough to be here to even do that. It could have been a lot worse," he said, adding that he became a firefighter because many of his friends were volunteers and "I hung out there all the time anyway."
End had been scheduled to be sworn in as a member Sunday, but after the accident, officials moved the ceremony to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where he had been transferred from Huntington Hospital.
Bernstein and two of the other injured passengers -- Cliff Scudlo, 27, and Rory O'Rourke, 25, both of Amityville -- were volunteer firefighters. O'Rourke was scheduled to be released from Huntington Hospital Sunday while Scudlo remained in serious condition at North Shore, fire department officials said.
Bernstein was a volunteer for four years, Amityville fire Chief Russell Sawyer said. He worked as a seasonal employee at Sports Authority in Westbury for about two years, store manager Steve Jackson said.
Jackson said Bernstein had worked as the store's expert on skiing and snowboarding, which were passions of his.
Several Amityville Fire Department members said they were devastated by Bernstein's death. "You didn't have to go very far to find him," Sawyer said. "Always a joy in the department. He'll be greatly missed."
Scudlo spent four years in the Marines, has volunteered with the fire department for 10 years and is the son of Amityville Fire Department First Assistant Chief Charles Scudlo. O'Rourke has been a volunteer firefighter for three years, Sawyer said.
Charles Scudlo spent Sunday at the hospital, checking on his son and End.
"The response from our group has been overwhelming," Scudlo said, adding that his son was "very conscious and alert" other than feeling the side effects of painkillers.
The crash is under investigation. The car was impounded, police said, but criminal charges are unlikely.
End's mother, Patricia, said she was relieved to see her son's condition improving -- and she was ecstatic to see him earn his fire department badge.
"It's fantastic how he's pulling through," she said.
With Yamiche Alcindor
and Tania Lopez