Mourners give firefighter hero's farewell

December 30, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Thousands packed Apostolic Church of God Thursday morning to say goodbye to Corey Ankum, 34.

Ankum was one of two Chicago firefighters killed on the job last week. He and Edward Stringer died when the roof of an abandoned building that had been involved in a fire collapsed. They had been looking for homeless people who may have been trapped in the building.

Bells rang over Ankum's casket, a symbol of coming home. As mourners filled the church inside, his uniform hung outside on a fire truck.

Ankum's co-workers, family and friends remembered him as a family man, sports fan, self-taught chef and dedicated worker.

"Just a hardworking, step-up guy that was there doing it for the better of the department," said Lt. David Phalin of the Chicago Fire Department.

"Corey was a heck of a guy. Personally, very good always. And as I tease his mother all the time: 'Here comes your pride and joy, your baby boy,'" said Niles Sherman, a friend and former Chicago alderman.

Ankum leaves behind a wife, two daughters and a son. He met his wife, Demeka, while he was managing a daycare. In November 2008, he graduated from the academy and became a Chicago police officer. In April 2010, Ankum transitioned to the Chicago Fire Department.

"When he was called to be a firefighter, answering that call, he became one of God's protectors. And last Wednesday when he answered the call, he became one of God's servants and our hero," said Fr. Thomas Mulcrone, chaplain of the Chicago Fire Department.

Mayor Richard Daley said it was a great honor to know the cop-turned-firefighter. Ankum's wife has been a personal assistant to Daley for years.

"Corey was a true defender in every sense of the word. He devoted his entire life to helping others," Daley said during an emotional tribute. "We will miss you, Corey, and we will always remember you."

The mayor called Ankum a natural-born leader.

"He always had a smile on his face, and he loved his job - I mean, he constantly, any time we'd meet, many times, he would just talk about the fire department, and of course even the police department because he served both," said Daley. "He was really a public servant at heart. He made no bones about that."

Before the service, hundreds of firefighters lined up one by one to say a final goodbye and salute Ankum. Afterward, his casket was placed on his engine's truck. A formal procession followed, taking him to Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, where he will be buried.

"This man deserved a hero's burial, and he got one," said Tom Ryan of Firefighter's Union Local 2. "This has been probably the hardest seven to eight days that I have ever had in my 27 years on this job - to have to say goodbye to a guy - to a firefighter to a father, to a friend."

Firefighters who did not know Ankum personally traveled from California, Canada and Boston, as well as from other parts of Illinois, to pay their respects.

"I said, 'I'm going on Thursday - no one is going to stop me,' and so I got a ride and came," said firefighter Janice McAndrews, who traveled from Richmond, Ill. for the funeral.

Firefighters said that distance is no obstacle when it comes to the brotherhood and sisterhood of being a firefighter.

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