John Redmond, a firefighter who died fighting a blaze more than a decade ago, is hailed as a religious family man who was always available to help anyone who needed him.

He was so highly regarded, the Philadelphia Fire Department's top award to active firefighters is named the John Redmond Award.

This year's recipient is Lt. Fred Baker, a member of Ladder 29, at Old York Road near Widener Place in Olney. He will receive the award Sunday during the Firefighter's Recognition Day ceremony at Firefighters Local 22 union hall, on North 5th Street near Willow.

"Redmond was a great community leader, doing a lot of things to help people," Baker said. "This is an honor."

The Fire Department selected Baker, 54, not only for his exemplary 18-year firefighting career, but also, more importantly, for the impact he has had on citizens wherever he was stationed.

He started a baseball league, and would often mentor and protect youths who lived at a nearby boarding home.

"I saw there was a kid shot in a playground last year, he was 14, and that prompted me to do something positive for kids before they reach that age," said Baker, the father of two sons, 21 and 18.

"There were no baseball leagues in North Philly, and I went around, raised $2,000 to go out and buy new equipment and uniforms," Baker said. "We'd practice on Wednesdays and play on Saturday."

He called it the Philadelphia Fire Department Youth League, and he said members of Engine 34 (his firehouse at the time, at 28th Street near Thompson) and the 3rd battalion also helped out.

"We taught kids how to play together, that everybody plays, no cursing," Baker said. "We'd mentor them, talk to them about staying away from drugs. The league turned out about 50 kids."

The community has since taken it over, and it will resume play when regular baseball season begins.

Baker's sincerity touched those within the department, said Brian McBride, Local 22's president. "He came to us with this idea, out of the goodness of his heart and commitment to do something for the community in which he worked," McBride said.

"It just astounded me, because you don't get people giving back like that every day. It's rare and beautiful to see."

Baker's community connection didn't end with baseball. While keeping an eye on the youths in the neighborhood, he spotted some trouble brewing at a youth shelter and jumped in to assist.

"There was a shelter down the street, and I adopted it because I started seeing kids getting jumped by other kids who believed the kids [from the shelter] weren't from their neighborhood," Baker said.

"So I would walk them back and forth. We also had a few medical runs to that building, and we started a program to bring them food and coats for the holidays."

For Baker, who is reluctant to tout his own achievements, his good works are all part of the human job description - being a decent, caring human being.

"If I see things, I'll do things; community service is what we do," said Baker, who grew up in North Philly and in Kensington. "The Fire Department is a great organization. We get to help people, and sometimes, get to save people." *