Angel On Our Shoulders
On February 26, 1970, this world was changed forever and will never be the same. This is the day that Richie Allen Jr. was born to Richie and Gail Allen of Rockaway Beach, New York. By the time Richie was 3 years old, he was already the older brother to Judy and Lynn. When the 3 were younger, they were together all the time that when a friend or cousin came to visit, they would always say in the same order, “I’m going to Richie, Judy and Lynn’s” (as if it were one name) even though they were just visiting one of them. In order to add some variety to this phrase, their parents decided 8 years later to add Luke, then Maggie and finally Matthew. At this time, the family decided that the phrase was varied enough and the Allen clan was complete; however, their parents always teased that there would be more.
Richie was strong, not a big guy but solid. His strength was evident throughout his life and he had many talents within him. He started on the swim team at Molloy High School as a freshman and somehow managed to learn how to dive in his four years there and earned a diving scholarship to college. This was Richie’s talent, he excelled in anything he put his mind to and made it look effortless.
It is and was Richie’s innocence, his laugh, his personality and his beautiful smile that could light up the darkest of rooms. He was one of the good guys and had an amazing sense of humor. His laugh was contagious and he could tell a story like no one else.
Richie loved the beach and worked Rockaway’s beaches as a lifeguard for many years and he treasured it. The beach was a peaceful place for Richie and brought him comfort; it was Richie’s Heaven on Earth. He loved the ocean, which is where he surfed, fished, swam and paddled.
Before becoming a fireman and when not lifeguarding on the beach in the summer, Richie spent his winters as a New York City Public School teacher. He quickly and easily gained the admiration and respect of his students as they could tell that he was not like their other teachers. To his students, Richie was someone they could relate to and they described him as “laid back” and “cool”.
People become firemen for many reasons. Richie’s family believes that he became a fireman because saving people and helping is what gave him life. During his short life, he saved many people; some he saved as a fireman, some he saved while lifeguarding and some he saved from themselves. His family believes that this is what God put him on this earth for. Once people met Richie, their lives were changed forever.
September 9, 2001 was the last day that Richie was on the beach with his family. They recall that it was a beautiful day, but more importantly they recall Richie’s beautiful spirit being at peace truly cherishing the amazing day that God had granted all of them. His childlike enjoyment of the simple pleasures in life was so evident that day. He spent that evening having dinner with his family and his dad drove him home and said goodnight with a strong hug and kiss. The next day was Monday, the 10th, and Richie was working at the firehouse that evening. He had called his brother Monday night to see how the ocean waves were as he planned on surfing the next day. However, as Richie was getting off-duty Tuesday morning, the call came in that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Without hesitation, Richie jumped on Engine 4 as an extra man and never made it home on the 11th to surf the Rockaway waves. In the days following the 11th, there were waves in Rockaway ideal for surfing. His family believes that Richie sent these waves for his brothers and friends to surf and enjoy and to let them know that his spirit is always with them in everything that is beautiful.
On September 11, 2001, the terrorists took something from all Americans; however, Firefighter Richie Allen and all of the heroes from that day gave back so much more than the cowards could ever take. His spirit, his memory and his unconditional love for so many people is alive and thriving in all who knew him and even in those who did not have the privilege of knowing this incredible man. He will never die and will live on stronger than before. The terrorists have failed miserably.
Richie’s family and friends will carry him in their hearts, minds and spirits forever. They are honored to have had the chance to know and love him. Richie will be missed terribly and there will always been an unspeakable void that will never be filled. The sacrifice that he made on September 11, 2001, exemplifies the type of man Richie Allen was and always will be, an American hero who laid down his life for another. Until his family and friends join Richie in Heaven, they will visit the beach and remember how much he loved and treasured this place and life in general. His family and friends will remember the peace that filled him on the 9th and they will hold Richie closest to their hearts – he will be with them always. His sister describes him as the "Angel on our shoulders."
Tribute submitted by Judy Allen-Aiken.
A Lifeguard Transformed
Summer 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 — substitute teacher, sanitation worker — 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 all night.
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."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 1, 2002.