Growing up with a firefighter dad, Amy Loukota of Huntley always felt the brotherhood of firefighters was a big part of her life.
Since the death of her father, West Dundee Fire Department Lt. Tom Lutzow, two years ago, Loukota has felt even more intensely the significance of that, she said.
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She and her two children Andrew, 10, and Jackson, 5, and her mother Carol Lutzow, were among about 50 area residents who attended the Elgin Area Firefighter Memorial Service Saturday at the Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum.
"I come every year. It really feels like they have become our family," she said.
Representatives of about a dozen local fire departments attended the ceremony, held under skies that threatened rain but produced just a few drops. Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, state Rep. Keith Farnham and Mary Camacho, chairwoman of the Elgin Fire and Police Commission also were in attendance.
The ceremony honored firefighters throughout Illinois who died in the line of duty: firefighter Daniel C. Dare of the Avon Fire Protection District; firefighter Corey R. Shaw of the Du Quoin Fire Department; Lt. Patrick Hannon of the Chicago Fire Department; Assistant Chief Michael Lehnen of the Bethalto Volunteer Fire Department; firefighter Theodore Arthur Myhre of the Bishop Hill Fire Department; and District Chief Kevin McIntyre of the Rockford Fire Department.
Also honored were three local firefighters who died in the past year. Two were retirees, Herman "Red" Naatz Jr., assistant fire chief for the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District, and Capt. Al Vogt of the Elgin Fire Department. Capt. John "Winky" Winkelman of the Huntley Fire Department died April 12 in a motorcycle accident on his way home from a district communications committee meeting.
Winkelman's widow, Lynn, who was accompanied by her children and stepchildren, couldn't hold back tears behind large, dark sunglasses. "The ceremony was lovely. It was sad," she said. "It keeps getting harder. Things are sinking in now."
Despite the ever-changing nature of firefighting, what with new technologies, materials and procedures, firefighters always can rely on the constant of their traditions, said Huntley Fire Chief James Saletta, who gave the ceremony's memorial message.
Traditions "are a statement of our core values of respect, dedication and service to others," Saletta said. "They define who we were, and who we are."