Thomas L. Graves Jr., 31, the Prince George's fireman was killed Wednesday in an apartment explosion and fire in Glenn Dale, had wanted to be a firefighter from the time he was 16 years old.

He applied then for membership in the West Lanham Volunteer Fire Department.

"I think that the firehouse could help me better myself and my community. It's helping people," he wrote on his application. He was accepted.

Later he graduated from DuVal Senior High School in Lanham in 1967 then served with the Air Force in the Far East. After returning from military service, he picked up his work as a volunteer fireman, and in 1973 became a professional firefighter with the Prince George's County Fire Department.He had been stationed since then at its Glenn Dale fire station.

In 1974, Mr. Graves was named Professional Firefighter of the Year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Lanham. He received the award for saving the life of a child who had fallen down a flight of stairs. When Mr. Graves reached the scene of the accident the child was not breathing and showed no pulse. The child recovered after Mr. Graves administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

On Wednesday, Mr. Graves became the first career firefighter in the 14-year history of the Prince George's County Fire Department to lose his life in the line of duty.

He was one of those who responded to a call at 9923 Good Luck Rd. in Glenn Dale where a three story apartment building was burning. An explosion caused the entire masonary front wall of the building to collaspe.

Mr. Graves was buried in the debris. He was rushed to Doctor's Hospital of Prince George's County where he died 45 minutes later.

In addition to his work as a professional firefighter, Mr. Graves had continued to work regular tours of voluntary duty with the West Lanham Volunteer Fire Department.

Mr. Graves, who lived in New Carrollton, was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and was a graduate of Prince George's Community College's Fire Science Curriculum.

His survivors include his wife, the former Rebecca Graves, and his 16-month-old son, John Christopher, of New Carrollton; his mother, Marie Hall of Marlow Heights; his father, Thomas L. Sr., of Bladensburg, and three sisters, Karen Hinkle of Columbus, Ohio, and Diane Houser and Marie Stephensen, both of New Carrollton.