Posts Tagged Michael Whalen

Elgin firefighters honor two who drowned in 1974

Excerpts from

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

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

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New ambulance for the Limestone Township FPD

This from Mike Whalen, Fire Chief , Limestone Township Fire Protection District

We are taking delivery of a new ambulance at the Limestone Township Fire Protection District in Kankakee County. MABAS Division 7. It is an AEV on a 4-wheel drive Ford F550 chassis. This will replace a 2004 Road Rescue which will be going to the Boles Acres, New Mexico Fire Department.
AEV Type I ambulance

New 2015 Ford F550/AEV ambulance for the Limestone Township FPD ambulance. Limestone Twp FPD photo

Type III ambulance

2004 Ford/Road Rescue ambulance. Limestone Twp FPD photo

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Elgin Fire Department Memorial

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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