John Tull always knew where his father went. He could tell by the yellow index card hanging from a magnet on the metal backdoor of his Media home. It said one word: Fire.

That meant Bob Tull had trudged off to risk his life again as a volunteer firefighter for Middletown Township. It's a social consciousness and sacrifice that apparently doesn't skip a generation, because his son John - a 6-1, 260-pound, 2-year starter at center on Archbishop Carroll High's football team - has followed his father's path to the firehouse and into harm's way.

That's why playing in the 32nd annual Delaware County Hero Bowl at 7:30 tonight at Widener University probably means a little more to Tull than to anyone else on the field.

Three Delco firefighters were killed in the line of duty over the last 8 months. The Hero Bowl benefits the families of fallen police officers and firefighters in the area.

Tull got a good dose of what he will be playing for Tuesday night, when he attended the funeral of Aston-Beechwood Chief Raymond "Rocky" Eusden, who died of a heart attack while on duty. Proceeds from the game also willbenefit the family of Nicholas Picozzi, a Lower Chichester firefighter who left behind two children under age 12 when he died in March while responding to a basement fire.

Michael Reagan, a 19-year-old Sharon Hill firefighter who lost his life last September responding to a garage fire, wasn't much older than Tull, who's 17.

"That's why the Hero Bowl means so much more to me," said Tull, a three-sport athlete bound for Catholic University in the fall to play football. "You do it for them. Firemen are family. And we've had three line-duty deaths the last year. It really hits home for me. You experience what those guys experience.

"Fighting fires is something you do; you don't do it for any reason other than helping people. You don't do it for any personal gain, other than helping someone else. At Carroll, a lot of kids tease me about being a volunteer fireman, but don't understand it. It's all about the community and helping your neighbor."

Tull is a member of the East team, which will be comprised of seniors from the Del Val League and Monsignor Bonner, Glen Mills, Cardinal O'Hara and Carroll. The West team will be made up of players from the Central League and Garnet Valley and Haverford School. Pregame festivities begin at 7. Tickets are $5.

Tull is a third-generation firefighter. His sense of community was forged when he was a youth visiting his father at the Middletown firehouse and riding on the firetruck during parades. It would sometimes concern him when his father was pressed into duty, and he always felt relieved when he heard dad's keys clanging upon his return home later that night.

"Every time, no matter what it is, what kind of call you're responding to, you're risking your life," said Tull, who juggled three varsity sports and still maintained a 3.9 GPA and scored a 1,140 on the SAT. "But being a firefighter is in the family. I don't even second-guess it, I just do it. My father has been a fireman since 1970 and he was 16 when he first joined. I started at 14. I remember coming home and seeing a notecard on the door with a magnet saying "fire," no matter what it was, he went to the firehouse and he should be home pretty soon."

Tull has inquired about becoming a volunteer fireman in Maryland's Prince George's County while he is in college. He's going to EMT school this summer; he already has 200 hours of training in various emergency courses.

He will study engineering in college, but is holding out the option of being a professional firefighter in his future.

"There's always a little fear in responding to a call, and I've been faced with a few risky situations," said Tull, who currently holds junior status but will become a fulltime firefighter when he turns 18. "Any time a crew goes into a building, a floor could collapse. Car fires are dangerous, especially in major traffic, and anything can happen, really. But being a firefighter is in the blood; it always has been." *

E-mail Joseph Santoliquito