The inherent hazards of fire and rescue operations are a common bond among the “brotherhood” of the nation’s firefighters. During a 2018 visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, News-Review Assistant Editor Eric Allen Johnson, now fire chief of the Boulder Junction Volunteer Fire Department, paid his respects to his adopted Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) “brother” firefighter Eric T. Allen. —Staff Photo By ERIC JOHNSON
The inherent hazards of fire and rescue operations are a common bond among the “brotherhood” of the nation’s firefighters. During a 2018 visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, News-Review Assistant Editor Eric Allen Johnson, now fire chief of the Boulder Junction Volunteer Fire Department, paid his respects to his adopted Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) “brother” firefighter Eric T. Allen. —Staff Photo By ERIC JOHNSON
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." —John 15:12-13



And so it was on a bright, sunny day in New York City 20 years ago that my adopted Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) firefighting “brother,” Eric T. Allen, 44, laid down his life at the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

When others were rushing away from the horrors of the terrorist attack raining down on Lower Manhattan, fleeing for their very lives, Allen had the strenth and courage to go against human instinct and rush into the Twin Towers alongside his first-responder colleagues, in an effort to save as many lives as possible during firefighting and search-and-rescue operations.

Of the 2,977 victims of the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Penn., Allen was one of 412 first responders killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, including 343 FDNY “brother” firefighters, chaplains and para­medics, personnel ranging from the fire chief to probationary firefighters with less than one month on the job. 

Allen was one of seven Rescue Squad 18 brothers to perish at Ground Zero. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 2001, one of eight FDNY firefighters buried across the New York City boroughs on that day.

Since 2001, another 227 FDNY firefighters have succumbed to illnesses related to toxic dust and debris at the incident response site at the World Trade Center. Another 500 are currently battling 9/11-related illnesses, including cancers, as the terrorist attacks continue to exact their toll.

When I joined the ranks of America’s first responders as a volunteer firefighter 14 years ago, I drew upon several inspirations. 

As a second-generation Johnson in the Wisconsin fire service, I had some big boots to fill as I followed in the footsteps of my late Uncle Ronnie, a 25-year volunteer with the Cedarburg Fire Department in Ozaukee County.

And as a child of the 1970s, I grew up watching NBC’s “Emergency,” which would launch the paid professional and volunteer careers of many Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto first-responder wannabes.

And then there was the selfless heroism of 9/11 first responders like the “diligent, determined and headstrong” Allen, described by the New York Times in a March 2020 profile as a “short guy (who) cast a long shadow,” legendary for knowing “how to size up potential trouble quickly and dodge it adroitly.”

Between 2016 and ’18, it’s been my solemn honor to visit all three of the 9/11 memorial sites — the United Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville,?Penn., the Pentagon 9/11 memorial in Washington, D.C., and two “Ground Zero” visits to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum on the World Trade Center site in New York City.

Walking the World Trade Center South Memorial Pool in 2016, reading the names of FDNY’s fallen, I felt an immediate connection with Allen as we both share two names — Eric Allen — Eric Thomas Allen and Eric Allen Johnson.

I subsequently adopted Allen as my fallen FDNY “brother.” I made a return visit to Lower Manhattan to pay my respects to Allen and the other 9/11 victims in 2018.

In many respects our lives couldn’t have been more different. Allen was a paid professional firefighter with the nation’s largest and busiest urban fire department, which fielded some 1.8 million fire, rescue and EMS calls in 2018. I’m a volunteer firefighter in Wisconsin’s rural North Woods at Boulder Junction, where we typically field 140 fire, rescue and EMS calls annually.

But in other respects we were kindred souls — both family men, both passionate about serving our home communities, both “brother” firefighters facing many of the same potential perils every time the tones from dispatch go off for a call. However remote, there’s always the chance you may be making your final call. 

Facing the hellish scenes 20 years ago, Allen rushed in to do his sworn duty — dying an American hero in the process — and he will never be forgotten, certainly not by me.

Rest in peace, brother Eric Allen.

As Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro said, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”