When Kathy Hyatt was 10, her friend, James Allen, would chase her around yelling, "I'm going to marry her!"

Many years later, after going so far as to pay friends to tell Allen to leave her alone, Kathy became Mrs. James Allen.

"I just realized that I loved him," Allen said this week during a plaque-dedication ceremony honoring her late husband, who died in 2003 from injuries suffered while fighting a fire on Aramingo Avenue near Ann Street in Port Richmond.

"This is great, because now he is embedded everywhere permanently and he would have really loved that," she added smiling. "He loved being the center of attention."

Allen, 43, died on Oct. 7, 2003, of a heart attack brought on by smoke inhalation.

His task had been to ventilate the home by breaking the windows so fellow firefighters could enter and rescue trapped occupants, officials said. But Allen collapsed, and died a little over an hour later at Northeastern Hospital.

A 7-year veteran, Allen also left two daughters, Angela and Jamie.

During the ceremony, his father, Thomas Allen, was overcome with emotion.

James "used to come down to my station and knew all the guys that I worked with," said Allen, a retired firefighter.

"And of course, we taught him a few things as well," the elder Allen said with a laugh. "I'm just so incredibly proud of him."

"A chip off the old block," said Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers of James Allen.

The hero-plaque program is a joint effort between the Firefighters Union Local 22 and attorney James Binns. Anyone interested in sponsoring a plaque should call Binns at 215-275-3000. *