Richie Allen: A Lifeguard
after summer, Richie Allen stood watch along the beaches
of the Rockaways, keeping swimmers out of danger. He had
his share of ocean rescues, and then there was the one he
pulled off on dry land, after a couple of people dug a
giant hole in the sand that then collapsed around them.
When he was not in the tall lifeguard's chair himself, he
was never very far away. He'd create a hammock by tying a
sheet to the supports beneath the chair and rest there
awhile, enjoying the breeze blowing and the gulls calling
and the pace of one more nice warm day.
He was the much-adored oldest of six children, and his
siblings trailed him into lifeguarding. "Growing up in
Rockaway, if you can swim, then that's the best job to
have," said Judy Aiken, one of his sisters. He got other
jobs &emdash; substitute teacher, sanitation worker
&emdash; before the Fire Department called him to work in
May of last year, when he was 31. He spent seven weeks
with Engine Company 4 in Lower Manhattan, and then moved
to Ladder Company 15 in the same firehouse. On Sept. 11,
he rode with the engine company to the World Trade
Center, even though he was off duty after having worked
The Sunday before, he and his mother, father, sisters
and brothers had all spent the day together on the beach.
And they realized that their lifeguard had become a
firefighter. "He said how much he absolutely loved the
job," said his mother, Gail.
"It was part of his breathing, almost. He was saying
he couldn't wait for his first fire."