Firefighter Had 'Fierce Sensitivity'

February 18, 2002

Junior high school students are not renowned for their kindness to those who are different. The kids in Sean Patrick Tallon's neighborhood, an Irish and Italian enclave in Yonkers, were no exception.

For them, the outsiders were two Asian-American boys who moved to the neighborhood. Alternately picked on and ostracized, the pair found a champion in Tallon, then 12. He befriended them, including them in neighborhood ballgames and generally making it clear that whoever messed with the boys would have him to reckon with.

"He took them under his wing," said Tallon's sister, Rosaleen Tallon DaRos of Riverdale. "Now they're grown men and they're still in the neighborhood."

Tallon had a talent for empathy. A strapping redhead with a tender heart, the 26-year-old firefighter "had a fierce sensitivity to him," said his sister, who was three years his senior. "Even when we were young, if I was upset, he was upset."

Tallon was born in the Bronx to a close-knit Irish family. His father, Patrick, was a maintenance man and his mother, Eileen, worked as a home health aide to the elderly. When Tallon was 3 years old the family moved from Fordham Road back to County Kildare, Ireland. They returned to the Bronx a year later, moving up to Yonkers when Tallon was 9.

"He didn't take his home or any of us for granted," his sister said. "He knew how hard my parents worked."

The values they taught him shaped Tallon's template for his own life. A devout Catholic, he was drawn to jobs where he could serve his community. "He really summed up that expression, God and country," DaRos said.

Tallon joined the Marines in 1996. He became a corporal as well as the guy in his regiment who could defuse even the tensest of situations with a quiet joke or comment. "He had a way of setting things in perspective," his sister said. And he attended mass each week, even when he was stationed in Norway, when it meant waking up in the dark and standing out in the snow to receive the sacraments.

After leaving the military, he worked as an emergency medical technician in the Bronx and lived at home with his family. He remained a reservist with the Second Battalion, 25th Regiment, in Garden City. In 2000, Tallon joined the New York City Fire Department as a probationary firefighter at Ladder Co. 10 in Lower Manhattan.

The job was a good fit for him. He felt proud that he had found his calling and began to save up money for a house. "He really turned into a fine man," his sister said.

He had been a firefighter for just 11 months when the terrorists attacked. One of the first to respond to the alarm, Tallon was killed when the towers collapsed.

Four months after the attacks, his Marine reserve unit was called up for a yearlong activation to support the Marine expeditionary forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. It departed for Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 20.

-- Jennifer Smith (Newsday)