John McAllister Jr. was 22 when his father died suddenly, and it was hard to find comfort. But at the funeral, two tearful women introduced him to three children whose lives his dad, a Philadelphia firefighter, had saved.
"I remember looking at their bright, young faces and thinking that our dad had given three more kids a second shot at life," McAllister, now 62, said Wednesday at a memorial-plaque dedication honoring his father's service and sacrifice.
"What a great gift," he said at the ceremony on 10th and Poplar streets, North Philadelphia.
John McAllister Sr. died June 17, 1969, after responding to a fire along the railroad at 10th and Poplar.
When firefighters arrived, the fire apparently had burned itself out, but on the way back to the station McAllister's coat got caught on a car.
As a result, because fire trucks at the time were not equipped with seatbelts, rear doors, or safety bars, he fell and was struck by the rear wheels.
McAllister died a short time later at St. Luke's Hospital from a head injury.
McAllister, a 19-year veteran of the department, left behind a wife, his son and three daughters.
"My dad was the model that everyone else aspired to," McAllister Jr. said."I feel so honored."
The Hero Plaque program is a joint effort between the Local 22 Philadelphia Fire Fighters' Union, International Association of Firefighters and lawyer James Binns.
Anyone interested in sponsoring a plaque should call Binns at 215-275-3000.