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Kenneth Tietjen, a police officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, always wanted to be a firefighter.
In junior high school, as a member of the Middletown Fire Explorers, he rode his mo-ped to local fires. When he turned 18, his dream became a reality when he became a volunteer for the Belford Engine Company. His mother remembers how proud he was after fighting his first fire.
"He came home and said, 'We had a great fire today. It was a propane tank,' " said Janice Tietjen of Belford. "He was right at the front of the hose and I said, 'Why were you there?' He said, 'That's where the excitement is.' "
Mr. Tietjen, 31, of Matawan, died while rescuing people trapped in the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attack. He led workers, some of them badly burned, from Tower One before grabbing the last air pack in sight and entering Tower Two.
"He waved to his partner and went in," his mother said.
Mr. Tietjen, who was engaged to be married later this month, died when Tower Two collapsed.
Mr. Tietjen, who had been a Port Authority police officer for nine years, was working his job on the PATH trains when he heard of the attack. He immediately rushed into Manhattan to help, first commandeering a cab, then hopping an emergency vehicle.
"Wherever he could be, that's where he was," his mother said.
At the time of his death, Tietjen was training to be a member of the Port Authority Emergency Services Unit. All he needed was to complete a scuba diving course to fulfill his dream, his mother said.
Mr. Tietjen received several awards for his work with the Port Authority, including a special commendation in 1996 for subduing a man who rammed a patrol car in the Holland Tunnel and then stabbed a police officer.
Off the job, Tietjen, who moved to Matawan two years ago, liked action, too.
He was an avid hockey player and enjoyed riding dirtbikes with his fiancée's 13-year-old son. He was a reliable handyman, always ready to help others with a home improvement project, his mother said.
"He loved Home Depot," she said. "He loved everything -- life, sports, people, his job. Every day was another project for him. He was a lovable person with many, many friends. And I know it sounds corny, but he was a really good kid . . . He was born on the Fourth of July. He was a hero."
Tietjen was a parishioner of St. Joseph's Church in Keyport and a member of Fraternal Order of Police No. 110 and the New Jersey State PBA Lodge 116.
In addition to his mother, Mr. Tietjen is survived by his father, Kenneth Tietjen; his fiancée, Karen Dalla Valle of Matawan; and two sisters, Cindy Tietjen of Belford and Laurie Quinn of Hazlet.
Profile by Carrie Stetler published in THE STAR-LEDGER