Fallen firefighter's company gives gifts to kids

December 25, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Santa made his 40th visit to La Rabida Children's Hospital on Christmas. He got a ride on the back of a fire truck from Engine Company 63, the station where firefighter Ed Stringer worked.

Once inside, Santa and his firefighter helpers handed out gifts to some 25 sick children, including 7-month-old Joaquin and six-year-old Janis Overstreet. Janis has sickle cell anemia and has spent the last two Christmases hospitalized, but seeing Santa on Christmas while wearing her brand new dress seemed to brighten Janis's day.

"She was very excited. She been up, she got dressed - she was laying in the bed, but as soon as she heard Santa Claus was coming, she got up, got dressed and has been walking around looking for him all day," said Janis's mother, Monique Overstreet.

Stringer and fellow firefighter Corey Ankum died when a roof collapsed on them as they checked the site of a fire at an old laundry building in the South Shore neighborhood Wednesday.

"It's really a tough time, but I tell you, the fire department - our firemen are very resilient," said Engine Company 63 Chief Jeffrey Springer. "We grieve, we mourn, we hurt, but our service to the community and our service to the public continues. We go on."

Investigators said Friday that a small trash or wood fire was set by someone inside the building and the fire spread, which supports the initial belief that someone seeking shelter in the abandoned laundry building may have accidentally started the fire.

While this was a bittersweet Christmas Day for firefighters, the happiness they helped bring to the children at La Rabida seemed to cheer the firemen up too, even if just a little bit.

"This morning before I left the house, I had Christmas with my kids, we were able to open up gifts - they woke up early enough to do so, I didn't have to wake them up and being able to come here and see some of the kids, and lighten up their faces and their lives kind of puts things into perspective for you for what we're going through as a family in the fire department," said Richard Stack of Engine Company 63.

Mayoral candidate and former U.S. senator Carol Moseley Braun joined Santa and the firefighters Saturday morning at La Rabida.

Braun is an honorary hospital board member, and her staff says that she has made it a holiday tradition to hand out gifts to the children.

Funerals for Stringer and Ankum are set for next week. Many firefighters prepared Friday by updating their uniforms at the fire department clothing center.

"We're all hurtin' and then you try to put a little smile on there -- you wait for the right moment -- whether its the jacket's too tight on ya, you know, something," said Chicago firefighter Anthony Tobar.

"You have two ways you can go: You can cry or you can laugh," said Bob Zwick, who owns the Chicago Fire Department clothing center.

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