The Herald News
The Herald News
MORRIS – At just 24, volunteer Morris fireman James Allen lost his life in a residential fire because of a backdraft.
Nearly 30 years later, Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes is working toward recognizing Allen by having a portion of Route 47 through Morris named in his honor.
The section of highway that goes over the CSX railway between Benton and High streets will be named after Allen.
“I brought it up to his parents last May and said something needs to be done, but I wasn’t going to do it without the blessing of his mom and dad,” Steffes said. “It’s the right thing to do, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Allen is the son of Ken Allen of Coal City and Judy Steffes of Sheldon. He was married to his wife Donna and had a son, Kenneth James Allen, when he was killed in the fire.
Steffes approached state Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, with the memorial idea and Anthony jumped on board to help.
“I’m really honored to do this,” Anthony said. “Anytime I can honor a public servant, it’s what I want to do. I get that warm feeling that you get when you’ve done something for someone, and it makes me excited to do it.”
Anthony has taken the resolution to the Illinois House in Springfield, where it has had its first reading. He said it will have a second reading and then will be voted on.
Once the resolution is passed in the House, it will move to the Senate.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she has talked to Anthony about the memorial and will pick it up in the Senate.
“I want to do anything I can to honor the first responders who are there to protect us,” Rezin said.
Steffes said Allen went into a basement fire March 18, 1985, with two other firefighters.
After a backdraft, only two of the firefighters followed their line out.
“He gave his life doing what my guys and girls in the department do every day,” Steffes said.
Steffes said he considered Interstate 80 for the memorial naming, but dismissed it because people driving by wouldn’t know who Allen was, or the significance behind it.
“It needs to be in town, where his friends who knew him can see it,” Steffes said. “I thought the portion between Benton Street and High Street was a good place because it’s visible.”
Steffes said there is a statue in Allen’s honor at Chapin Park, but he believes renaming this particular section of Route 47 the Firefighter James Allen Memorial Highway will help close a chapter and properly memorialize him.
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