The Courier-News has an article about Elgin’s remembrance of two fallen firefighters.

A grand memorial at the Kimball Street River Walk is a powerful reminder of the tragic day, 40 years ago, that the Elgin Fire Department lost two of its own.

It was June 2, 1974, when fire Capt. Stanley Balsis, 45, and Michael Whalen, 25, died while trying to save a teenager from drowning.

On a dare, the teen took a blow-up raft over the Kimball Street Bridge dam and got caught in rough waters. When the boat Balsis and Whalen launched to save the teen slammed into a concrete wall and capsized, they fought for their lives, until the water proved too powerful an opponent and their comrades’ best efforts to save them failed. The teen was thrown from the water and survived.

[Sunday] — on the 40th anniversary of that tragic event — the Balsis family [threw] a wreath into the river to honor their father’s memory.

Throughout his life, Christopher McMillan, a grandson born long after Balsis passed away, has met a handful of local residents who vividly recall the tragedy.

Each of Balsis’ four children — Brad, Linda, Curt and Sharon — keeps his memory alive by displaying his firefighting memorabilia and pictures in their homes.

They are not alone in their grief. “I can still tell you, almost minute by minute, what happened that day,” said Patrick Crawford, who was then a 27-year-old paramedic in training and among the first to arrive at the scene. Five years later, Crawford quit, to pursue his part-time business, Elgin Medi-Transport Inc., full-time.

An unspoken grief

Larry Judkins, 68, is haunted by the image of Balsis and Whalen, “like clothes in a front-load washing machine,” struggling in the treacherous waters. The retired firefighter ruminates about what he could have done differently that day but realizes none of the scenarios would have changed the outcome. “The river is a dangerous place if you don’t respect it,” he said.

Flanked by stone columns topped with bronze fire helmets, the memorial is etched with headshot photographs of Balsis and Whalen in their formal uniforms, and inscribed with the story of their heroic last call. It serves as a reminder, not just on this day but every day, of the ultimate sacrifice two fallen heroes made in the line of duty.

thanks Dan

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