Ten years ago on May 14, the Western Springs Fire Department suffered its only-ever loss of a firefighter when Willard Christoffer fell 65 feet in a training exercise, leaving behind his wife Lucy and their two children, Charlie and Alyssa.
On Saturday, the department honored his memory with its annual intimate gathering of family and friends at a plaque that remembers Christoffer. The service is usually held on a Monday close to the date of his death, but was held on the precise date for the 10th anniversary.
"He was a real hard worker, always trying to do better," said Lt. Brian Wieringa who was working the hose drill when Mr. Christoffer passed. "He was a family man and a genuine guy."
Wieringa was 50 yards away from the sight of the accident. "I'll never forget that sound."
Christoffer had worked as an industrial hygenist in Downers Grove and was an on-call Western Springs firefighter. He had climbed to the top of a 105-foot fire-truck ladder during the training exercise, then lost his footing on descent and fell onto the truck.
John Lilliquist was not at training when Christoffer died. "I was driving by late at night and I thought it was odd that all the cars were there and everyone was inside," he said. "I got to work early the next day, went through my voicemail and heard that a firefighter died. I couldn't believe it. He was a great guy."
"Unfortunately this is the only casualty the village has sustained," said Fire Chief Anthony Bednarz. "100-110 firefighters are killed in the U.S. every year, and not every department gets hit. Unfortunately that time we did."
"We usually have it on Mondays because it's when the training days are held. It was usually held at a nearby tree but after last year's dedication, we decided to make a permanent plaque for him," Bednarz continued. "A lasting monument,"
The Fire Department continues to be there for Christoffer's family. Hugs and condolences were offered to Lucy Christoffer, and the department frequently checks in on the family.
"We don't want Lucy to think we forgot her," said Wieringa. "We're a brotherhood, a tight knit group, and their part of that family too.
"The memorial is very important. It shows us that he isn't forgotten and is remembered," said Lucy Christoffer.
She continued, "It's important to remember the significance of his service and that we remember the importance of safety and safety procedures. It's a reminder that a life can change in an instant for what we call the ultimate sacrifice."