CFD fireboat honors fallen comrade

May 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Mary Wheatley, a mom from Lemont, proudly broke a bottle of champagne Thursday morning to christen the City of Chicago's new $8.5 million fire boat. While the moment is filled with bagpipes and applause, her heart is still filled with sadness. The boat has been named "The Christopher Wheatley" in honor of her son who died last summer fighting a restaurant fire on the city's West Side.

"We miss him every day," said Mary Wheatley, "and we're never gonna stop missing him."

The fallen 31-year-old firefighter/paramedic was carrying equipment up a fire escape when he fell to his death. Members of Wheatley's company say he was a stand-out, just like the boat, and the honor is fitting.

"He was just first in on everything. He wanted to be the first. He wanted to be the best. Just a go-to guy," said firefighter Gregory Griffin, Truck 2.

The new boat is the first boat the fire department has purchased in 60 years, paid in part with government and city funds.

In a surprising coincidence, the vessel was built in Wheatley, Canada.

And it's nothing short of impressive. At 90 feet long and 228 tons it can break up to 12 inches of ice. The force of the spray that comes from one of its massive nozzles is enough to blast the brick off the side of a building.

Mayor Richard M. Daley touted the technology.

"I'm pleased to dedicate another modern tool...that will help keep 28 miles of lakefront, our riverfront and our harbors safe," Mayor Daley said.

The dedication of a fire department apparatus is one of the highest acknowledgements that the fire department can bestow on an individual.

"In an age that worships pro athletes, movie stars and the rich and famous, we need to under the difference between being a hero and being famous," said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Robert Hoff.

Mary Wheatley says the honor really represents all of the people who have served the city.

"If Christopher were here that is definitely what he would say," she said, "that he is so proud of this city and the department that he works for."

The boat will be able to op yr round. It can be run with a crew of up to 10 people when fighting a fire. It will be docked at the mouth of Chicago River.

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