MIKE FITZGERALD
Associated Press

BELLEVILLE -- Kendrick C. Perkins' dreams of becoming a firefighter ended abruptly on the running track at Southwestern Illinois College on Saturday afternoon.

Perkins, 29, of 4310 Walnut Ave. in East St. Louis collapsed while taking part with other rookie candidates in a 1.5-mile run required to qualify as a probationary East St. Louis firefighter. He died about 1:30 p.m. in the emergency room of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, said Tom Vernier, a hospital spokesman.

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death, said St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone.

The temperature recorded at MidAmerica Airport by 2 p.m. Saturday was 84. The heat index -- the measure of the combined effect of heat and air moisture on human comfort -- rose to 93, according to Carl Erickson, a meteorologist for Accu-Weather of State College, Penn.

Perkins was married but did not have children, said Cordelia L. Perkins, of East St. Louis, his step-grandmother.

"He was very debonair," Cordelia Perkins said. "He was clean all the time. He dressed real nice."

Perkins' mother and brother were en route to East St. Louis from their homes in Wisconsin, Cordelia Perkins said.

Ivory Williams, the president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 23, said it was hard for him to determine whether the 1.5-mile run is too grueling for firefighter candidates.

"Because if you come on this job you are going to be in those type of conditions, anyway," Williams said.

The East St. Louis Fire Department has no openings for new firefighters. As required by state law, the department was administering written and physical tests during the weekend to draw up an eligibility list of rookie candidates to prepare for when the city resumes hiring firefighters, Williams said.

"I and the city manager mourn the loss of one of East St. Louis' finest," said Fire Chief William Fennoy.