Excerpts from theChicagoTribune.com:

It was a beautiful, sunny June afternoon that Sunday in 1974 when Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis gave their lives rescuing a man in the Fox River, three now-retired Elgin firefighters who were there that day recalled Tuesday.

Forty-one years after Firefighter Whalen, 25, and Fire Capt. Balsis, 45, died, about 20 firefighters plus Balsis’ son Curt gathered at the memorial to the dead rescuers along the edge of the Kimball Street Dam in Elgin. Exactly at 5:01 p.m., the time the alarm went out, two retirees who had been there that day, Larry Judkins and Frank Craig Eadler, threw a wreath of flowers into the river from the nearby Kimball Street Bridge. Those at the side of the river saluted.

Whalen and Balsis had entered the water below the dam on June 2, 1974, because a 20-year-old man in an inflatable raft had gone over the dam and gotten himself trapped in the boiling water at its base. The man eventually got free of the churning water. But Whalen and Balsis fell out of their aluminum rescue boat and were trapped in the boiling current.

As scores of people watched in horror from the bridge, first Whalen and then Basis were drowned after a drama that went on for some 40 minutes.

Eadler recalled that the firefighters were submerged, then coughed back up, then resubmerged over and over in the boiling current below the dam as they tried to escape.

Standing on the west bank, Eadler recalled, he got a rope to Balsis. But, exhausted and with his collarbone broken by the vicious current, Balsis just couldn’t hold on any longer. Whalen already had drowned about 20 minutes before that.

Ten minutes later a Coast Guard helicopter arrived overhead from Chicago’s North Shore, but it was too late.

But as the flowered wreath went over the dam, then popped back out of the below-dam current in just a few seconds, Balsis said, “if only my dad had come out of there that fast.”

Excerpts from the DailyHerald.com:

The Elgin Fire Department Tuesday remembered two of its own who died 41 years ago while rescuing two teenagers.

Retired firefighter Larry Judkins dropped a wreath from the Kimball Street bridge into the Fox River to commemorate the deaths of Station 2 Pipeman Michael Whalen and his captain, Stanley Balsis. Standing with him was retired firefighter/EMT Craig Eadler. Both men were part of the rescue crew and saw Whalen and Balsis die.

“Those guys were heroes,” Judkins said. “They actually saved the kids in the water, but we couldn’t save them.”

The ceremony took place at 5:01 p.m., the time the call came in June 2, 1974. The tradition started about five years ago, Chief John Fahy said.

“There is no greater sacrifice a firefighter can give than laying down their life to save a fellow human being,” Fahy said. “Stan Balsis and Michael Whalen made that sacrifice 41 years ago, forever changing the lives of the Balsis and Whalen families. May they rest in peace.”

Two teens had, on a dare, ridden a raft over the dam on the flood-swollen river but capsized in the hydraulic roller, or boil, below the dam. Both teenagers survived.

The firefighters were killed when their rescue boat capsized. Whalen died almost immediately when their boat slammed against the concrete wall of the dam, while Balsis held on to the capsized boat for 45 minutes before the waters took him.

thanks Dan