March 11--NORMAL --An estimated 3,000 people plus an additional 1,500 firefighters and honor guard groups from throughout the state of Illinois paid their respects to firefighter Chris Brown during an emotional visitation Sunday afternoon and evening at the Eastview Christian Church in Normal.
Funeral services will be Monday at 10 a.m. for Brown, a Hudson resident and volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty while on the scene of a traffic accident near Hudson Tuesday night. He was employed full-time as a firefighter with the Bloomington Fire Department.
"It is a sad day," said State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis. "I've been in this job for three-and-a-half years and this is my 16th funeral for a firefighter killed in the line of duty. It doesn't get any easier. It gets tougher."
Matkaitis visited with the Hudson Fire Department Sunday afternoon, and presented a plaque to the department in Brown's honor. He announced that all flags in the state should be flown at half-mast through the conclusion of today's ceremony.
"We thank you for your service," he told them. "We thank Chris for his. Now, he's safe."
The perimeter of the Eastview Church parking lot was filled with first responder equipment from as far away as Chicago. A walkthrough of the firefighters in front of his casket took more than an hour.
"We don't have an accurate count of exactly how many were in the walkthrough," said Normal Fire Department Public Information Officer Matt Swaney. "But prior to the walkthrough, we organized in the gymnasium and it was absolutely full. We were packed in there like sardines."
Thanks to assistance from neighboring departments, all Hudson and Bloomington firefighters were able to attend the visitation and will be able to attend services today, as well. The two departments led the walkthrough.
"We have had great support from everyone and it is what is helping us get through this difficult time," said Hudson Fire Chief Dan Hite.
Hite said Brown was extremely popular, was very proud of his family, always had a smile, and often shared his knowledge with the volunteers in Hudson.
"He was like a mentor to many of them," he said. "He had a wealth of knowledge and he wanted to share that with our firefighters. The people who have come forward to offer assistance have been terrific and it just shows what type of person he was. He will be missed."
Even Matkaitis knew Brown.
"At first, I didn't recognize the name," he said, "but then when I saw his picture, I remembered right away."
Jeff Emmert, a Captain with the Bloomington Fire Department and long-time friend of Brown, was asked to speak at today's service by the family.
"Oh, I've got some stories, I could tell," he said. "Chris was like a brother to me. He was one of the first one of us to get one of those smartphones and he would be surfing the Internet, finding the coolest home remodeling projects. But the thing with Chris is, that he would never finish most of these projects so there are still a number of things left undone around his home. But you know what? We're going to finish those projects for him. And we are never going to forget the type of impact he had on our lives."
Copyright 2013 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.