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MAN ON A MISSION Goes to ends of the Earth to counsel on 9-11

Monday, September 8th 2003, 1:15AM

But Daly, who knew 50 of the 343 Fire Department members lost that day and who spent weeks searching for the remains of the fallen, will share his reflections with an audience in Nepal, where he journeyed last week as a State Department emissary. "Speaking about Sept. 11 helps me deal with the loss," said Daly, 54. "It helps me to help keep their memories alive. We can't forget the sacrifices they made."

This is just the latest of Daly's international trips. In the past year, he has visited Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; Nicaragua, and Paraguay, where, wearing his FDNY uniform, he spoke to politicians and civic and religious groups about Sept. 11, 2001, and its aftermath.

And to think he owes his eloquence to Toastmasters Inc., the international group known for molding and polishing public speakers.

Daly joined the Fire Department in 1987 after a career as a physical education teacher in the city's public schools.

"I found out it was less stressful to run into a burning building than to face a class each day," Daly said with a grin.

"Seriously, though, there is a sense of gratitude you get from helping people when you are a fireman that you can't get when you're doing something else," Daly said. "And there is a tremendous sense of family in the department."

It was a friend, Firefighter Steven Belson, who persuaded Daly to take the firefighter test. They were teenagers when they met, Lehman College students who worked summer lifeguard jobs at the 92nd St. beach in the Rockaways.

"Steven told me firefighting was a natural progression from working as a lifeguard," Daly said. "He was a little ticked off because I did a little better on the firefighter test than he did."

Belson died in the twin towers calamity.

"He was a very capable firefighter, and a friend," Daly said.

When he joined the department, Daly was assigned to Engine 1, Ladder 24 on 33rd St. in Manhattan. He retired from Engine 52 in the Bronx last November.

Daly was promoted to fire captain with Engine 52 two years ago. The service was to take place on Sept. 12, 2001.

On Sept. 11, his rig was one of the last to arrive at the twin towers. The long trip from the Bronx meant he and his crew would arrive just as 7 World Trade Center collapsed.

"The lights went out," Daly said. "It was like midnight in the middle of the day."

Daly spent the next six months at Ground Zero, culling debris for human remains.

"One of the things I tell people in my speeches is that, after spending six months digging up body parts, I never want what happened on Sept. 11 to happen again to anyone, in any country," Daly said.

Daly joined Toastmasters in 1990, in part to conquer a fear of public speaking. Soon, he was giving talks at schools and serving as master of ceremonies at FDNY events.

So when the State Department sought someone to appear at a Sept. 9, 2002, Washington news conference with Secretary of State Powell to launch an exhibit of 5,000 photographs of the collapse and rescue effort, Daly was a natural.

Daly was such a hit that State Department officials asked him to accompany the exhibit of Joel Meyerowitz's pictures two days later to São Paulo, where he met with Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. "During the luncheon, I gave him an FDNY cap," Daly said. "We took a picture of him wearing it, and that picture was in all of the Brazilian papers the next day."

That appearance garnered invitations for Daly to visit Paraguay and Nicaragua.

The State Department came calling again this year, which is why Daly will be in Nepal and New Delhi until Sept. 22.

He is grateful for the experience, even though the trips mean 12- and 16-hour days.

"I occasionally run into some anti-American sentiment, but people around the world also have a lot of sympathy for the United States because of Sept. 11," Daly said.

"I hope people think about what happened on Sept. 11 and at least make little changes in their lives that will eventually make peace a reality," Daly said.

"It will be hard not being here on Sept. 11, but I think I am making a contribution by being abroad," he said. "I feel like I'm doing what I was meant to do."