SPRINGFIELD – As thousands of firefighters from throughout Illinois gathered in Springfield today to pay tribute to their fallen brethren and honor nearly two-dozen others for their bravery, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich expressed gratitude for their dedication and personal sacrifice.
“Day after day, the more than 45,000 firefighters in Illinois put their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens, and tragically, some have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Because of some extraordinarily brave actions by the firefighters being recognized here today, several citizens are alive and very thankful for these men they consider heroes.”
The ceremony began with an invocation at the Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial, followed by a processional to the State Armory for the awards ceremony.
The late Jeffrey C. Bergstrom, a firefighter/paramedic with the Stone Park Fire Department, was honored with the Duty Death Gold Badge award. The award is presented to families of firefighters deceased in, or as a result of, the performance of duty.
State Fire Marshal J.T. Somer presented the Medal of Honor awards, the highest award given to firefighters by the state of Illinois, to three firefighters whom he said faced grave personal danger to save the lives of others.
“As a firefighter myself for more than 30 years, I have a great appreciation for the inherent dangers of our profession,” Somer said. “Without a doubt, the acts of heroism we honor here today are truly above and beyond the call of duty – the types of actions that make me proud to be part of the fire services.”
The three firefighters receiving the Medal of Honor were selected for their acts of outstanding bravery or heroism, by which they demonstrated selflessness and personal courage above and beyond the call of duty, under adverse conditions, with the possibility of extreme personal risk. They include:
- Lt. Daniel Mullaney, Chicago Fire Department
On December 26, 2003, Lt. Mullaney and his company were the first on the scene of a fire at a low-rise Chicago Housing Authority building. When he learned children were trapped inside, he ran into the building, located the two girls and carried them to safety, even after being knocked down by the force of a “flash-over.”
- Lt. Joseph Casagrande, Lockport Township Fire District
On May 27, 2004, off-duty Lt. Casagrande responded to a house explosion near his house where an elderly woman was trapped beneath rubble. He attempted to extricate her himself, communicated extrication equipment requirements to the responding company and remained with the victim during the entire rescue effort.
- Lt. David Wallace, Litchfield Fire Department
On June 7, 2004, Lt. Wallace was the first firefighter on the scene of a rapidly moving mobile home fire. While assessing the situation, he discovered a man lying on the floor. Realizing there was little time to save him, Lt. Wallace quickly entered the burning structure and pulled the victim to safety.
In addition, 11 firefighters were recognized for acts of heroism or bravery that clearly demonstrated courage and dedication in the face of danger. Medal of Valor award recipients include:
- Firefighter/Medic Joseph Newton, Westmont Fire Department
- Captain Rick Bocek, Westmont Fire Department
- Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Gale, Lockport Township Fire District
- Lt. James Barnett, Lincolnwood Fire Department
- Lt. Karl Crist, Fulton Fire Protection District
- Firefighter Barry Lederer, Northlake Fire Department
- Firefighter Kevin Kalbach, Northlake Fire Department
- Lt. Joseph Johnson, Northlake Fire Department
- Apprentice Engineer John Urbanski, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Slepski, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Lt. James Owczarski, Tinley Park Fire Department
Certificate of Recognition awards acknowledge those nominated for awards for their dedication to the principles and traditions of the fire service. The 2004 Certificate of Recognition award recipients include:
- Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Durand, Stone Park Fire Department
- Paramedic Steve Cumpston, Northlake Fire Department
- Paramedic Mike Millhuff, Northlake Fire Department
- Captain Dennis Gotkowski, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Lt. Kenneth Roemer, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Firefighter George Daly, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Firefighter Robert Buttala, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Firefighter Timothy Brooks, Tinley Park Fire Department
- Engineer William Proper, Tinley Park Fire Department
The awards presented today recognized heroic actions during 2004. Nominations were reviewed and winners selected by the ten-member Illinois Firefighting Medal of Honor Committee.