Fire engine escorts firefighter's casket

August 14, 2010 12:11:39 PM PDT
Thousands of people paid their respects Friday to Chicago firefighter Christopher Wheatley, 31, who died after he fell from a West Loop building.

Friends, family and as many as 1,000 firefighters paid tribute to the fallen firefighter.

"Right now I can't think. It's just too devastating. I'm still in shock. I just can't believe it's him that is laying there. It's very hard," said Michelle Martinez, who was Wheatley's paramedic partner for two years on ambulance 23.

Wheatley died early Monday morning at a fire at Avec restaurant in the West Loop. He fell four stories while battling a grease fire. He was carrying 75 pounds of equipment up the fire escape ladder when he slipped.

He served as a firefighter and paramedic for the Chicago Fire Department for 10 years.

"We shared a lot together, a lot of deep conversations. You know, just love for each other. You have a bond as a paramedic that can't be broken," said Martinez.

Wheatley's service was held at an Oak Lawn funeral home. A fire engine procession escorted his flag-draped casket to St. John Fisher Church, 10234 S. Washtenaw Ave., Chicago.

"He was a great guy. He was a well-humored guy. He always made light of the situation, no matter how hard it was. He was great character of what a Chicago fireman is," said Matthew Gerros, who graduated from the Chicago Fire Academy with Wheatley.

You must know Chris did his job very well and he did it right," said Father Mulcorne. "He loved being a firefighter. He loved being a paramedic. It just was not a job to him; it was his passion. And that is how, indeed, he lived his life. He lived it passionately. He lived life to the fullest, embracing and enjoying every moment."

"I did work with Chris a few times. Like many of the firefighters, they're great people. Most firefighters are here because they want to be here? They just love this job. Firefighters get to work two hours early every day and (are) usually the last ones to leave in the evening," said Steve Little, CFD battalion chief.

"When one of us hurts, we all hurt, so I wanted to be here to pay my respects to the Chicago firefighters," said Lt. Bill Renninger, Oldham County, Ky., Fire Department.

Wheatley most recently worked for Engine Company Number 5 in the West Loop. He is survived by his parents, his sister and his fiance.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley also paid his respect to a man friends say died doing a job he loved.

"We have to remember all these people have families. Each one of the firefighters and paramedics, they have families, and they all want to go home to their families, just like anyone else and it is a challenging, difficult job," said Mayor Daley. "They have families. They are just like anyone else. They wear the uniform with great pride and they serve with great distinction and many times they go unrecognized for the good deeds they do-- but I firmly believe that the people understand what they accomplish."


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